Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Nov. 5, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

Oh, there we go. OK, just to note that the entire Department of Defense is thinking and -- and praying for the family of Colin Powell, his loved ones, his -- his friends and colleagues. I'm sure you all got a chance to see the terrific memorial service at the National Cathedral, and again, we -- we hold in great esteem and with great respect his long service in the United States Army and of course as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and again, our thoughts and prayers are -- are with the family as they continue to grieve his loss.

Schedule-wise, a note that, on next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a once in a lifetime event will be taking place at Arlington National Cemetery, as part of the centennial commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the American public will be able to walk in the same footsteps as the tomb guards and lay a flower at the unknown soldier. This event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, a joint service honor procession will march through the cemetery, and that will evoke the memory of the unknown soldier funeral procession. Concurrently, a joint service aerial review of 17 aircraft will fly over the tomb that day. This was, again, a once in a lifetime event here celebrating a century of the Tomb of the Unknown and we obviously encourage you all to cover that and we certainly encourage the American people to -- if they can and -- and are -- and -- and desire to, to take part in that. 

With that, we'll take questions. I think we have Lita on the phone.

Q: Hi, John, yes, thanks. Two things. One, do you know if there's been any request from the Iraqis for -- to (inaudible) defending grey zone or any of (inaudible) security at the embassy, in light of the violence -- the increased violence today?

And then my second question -- (inaudible) take that and then -- or do you want me to say what my second question is?

MR. KIRBY: I know of no such request, no.

Q: OK. And then second question -- if I'm not mistaken, I think the civilian -- Defense Department civilians have until Monday to seek exemptions for the -- for the vaccine, but you've been saying that additional guidance needs to go out. Is there going to be an extension of the November 22nd date or is that going to be -- is the additional guidance going to come out (inaudible) have enough time for civilians to get their exemptions in order?

MR. KIRBY: The -- there is no plans to extend the deadline, which is the 22nd of November, for civilians. And let me get back to you, take the question about whether or not there's going to be any change to -- to the exemption deadline. That's a -- I -- I don't know the answer to that but I'll check.

OK, I guess we got -- I guess we took care of Lita. (Oren)?

Q: John, I was just wondering if there's anything you could say about Russian forces around Ukraine and if you've seen anything in the last 24, 48 to 72 hours that would lead you to believe there is a -- a change in their position or posture or intent?

MR. KIRBY: What I would say is we continue to watch and monitor unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine and we also continue to consult with allies and partners on -- on the issue. I obviously can't speak to Russian intentions and I'm not going to get into an intelligence and assessment of exactly what we're seeing, but -- but again, we continue to monitor this closely.

And as we've said before, any escalatory or aggressive actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States.

Q: Would you be able to compare in any way now to -- to spring or the -- the April, May timeframe?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I -- I'm going to steer away from comparisons right now. Again, we continue to watch this -- the -- these -- these movements closely. We -- and you've heard the -- the Chairman speak to this just recently. I mean, obviously we're concerned by it. But I think I'm -- I'm going to refrain right now from making comparative analysis from the podium.

Yeah, David?

Q: What is unusual about the Russian military activity?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I think, without getting into too great of detail right now, I -- I -- I think it -- it's really a matter of scale, it's -- it's -- it's a matter of the -- the -- the size of -- of -- of the units that we're seeing.

Janne?

Q: Thank you, John. China and North (Korea's ?) -- do you know the Department of Defense recently released the report that China does (have ?) 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, and it was reported that North Korea is preparing for nuclear and (SLBM ?) tests soon. Do you think the United States should have an arms control dialogue with nuclear weapons countries like China and North Korea?

MR. KIRBY: I think that's really a policy decision, Janne. That's better made by the Commander in Chief and by the National Security Council, not by -- by the Pentagon. What we're focused on is being able to address the threats and challenges in the region.

And as you've heard the Secretary say on multiple occasions, our number one pacing challenge is the People's Republic of China. Obviously, we are also concerned with security and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and that is why, you know, one of his first trips as Secretary was to Seoul, to reaffirm our -- our strong commitment to that alliance.

But as for, you know, arms control policy, that's really in the realm of -- of the -- of the White House and the -- and the Commander in Chief, and I think I'd leave it there.

Q: Because yesterday, at the State Department briefing, a spokesperson said "the intention was to have an arms control dialogue with China." So what is the deal with these positions?

MR. KIRBY: Well, obviously we would support any level of dialogue and discussion that reduces the threats of weapons of mass destruction, but the -- the -- the issue of whether there's going to be arms control talks and what's going to be on those -- the -- on the agenda and how they're going to be conducted is really -- it's a -- it's a -it's not a matter for the Defense Department to -- to speak to specifically. We -- we defer it to our -- our -- our diplomatic colleagues and of course our colleagues at -- at the White House for that kind of policy level decision making.

What we have to stay focused on is making sure that, to the degree there is a threat and a challenge, that we're ready to deter that threat and challenge and defeat it, if necessary, and that's what our focus is on here. But nobody wants to see, you know, arms races lead to conflict and confrontation.

Q: Last one -- the U.S. is (inaudible) the commander and South Korea conducted recently a -- their exercise -- name is Global Thunder '22 Exercise. Do you have anything on this? What is the scale and purpose and mobilization of the, you know, strategic weapons they're using?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I -- I would refer you to Strategic Command to speak specifically to that exercise. I am aware of the -- of Global Thunder. It was run by U.S. Strategic Command. I think they've put a press release out about that that lays out the -- the details. I'd point you to that press release, and certainly, refer you to STRATCOM to speak more -- more specifically to it.

Q: Is it held in Korea, or other areas?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- I don't -- I don't have a geographic laydown of it. I -- I think, again, I'd refer you to Strategic Command to speak about it in -- in -- in more detail. But obviously, it falls well within Admiral Richard's sphere of responsibility to make sure that from a strategic deterrence perspective, the United States continues to have the capabilities we need to defend this nation.

Q: Yeah, purpose for the -- they said right here is nuclear readiness, so they check nuclear...

MR. KIRBY: So you have the release?

Q: So I got little bit from Korea's side, you know.

MR. KIRBY: All right.

Q: So...

MR. KIRBY: Readiness and -- and capability are obviously a -- a key driving factor in the exercises that we conduct all around the world all year long, and I would not begin to suspect that this exercise would be different in any way from that.

Q: All right, thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome.

Let me go back to the phones here. Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hi, John. Thanks for that announcement on Arlington Cemetery, by the way. That looks very intriguing.

On the 1,000 warheads, the headline that's bounced around the world, can you clarify this point? Does DOD project that all 1,000 of these warheads, if they were ever produced, will all be mounted on Chinese silo and mobile ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S., you know, like a DF-5 and DF-31, or does the 1,000 include short- and medium-range ballistic missiles?

MR. KIRBY: Tony, what I can tell you is that the estimate pertains to all missiles, to include medium-range, intermediate-range and -- and intercontinental.

Q: OK. Can you also give a sense for how DOD derived the number 1,000? You know, is it a guesstimate vetted by the intelligence community? You've seen, some analysts are already opining that the number's hyped and inflated to justify more Pentagon spending on nuclear modernization.

MR. KIRBY: The China Military Power Report is mandated by Congress every year, and its intent is to provide our best assessment and -- and -- and analysis over China military growth and development, their programs, their capabilities, their operational concepts. It's not meant to drive budget bottom lines or top lines. And as for the number, it's a DOD project -- projection, and we, again, provide our best accurate assessment of the PRC's military and security developments. The information in the report is compiled through inputs and analysis from across the department...

Q: (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY: ... the department's enterprise, and it's coordinated with other departments and agencies across the U.S. government.

Q: OK, because last year you -- the DOD was projecting it'd be 400 missiles by the end of decade, and now, we're saying it by 1,000. So you've got to wonder, was that an intelligent -- intelligence failure last year?

MR. KIRBY: So look, Tony, this is an iterative process, and it's a yearly report, and our assessments and analysis are ongoing, literally, continually. So I -- I -- I wouldn't phrase this as anything other than, again, an iterative process of analyzing and assessing, and we cast a wide net when we do that. And you know, every year the report -- you -- you know this. I mean, you've seen it every year it changes because every year China's military capabilities change and we have to stay up to speed with that.

Yeah, (inaudible).

Q: OK, thank you.

Q: Thank you, John. I want to follow up about the new nuclear issue that China has (inaudible) that the U.S. should adopt the no-first-use policy. So -- so is the DOD seriously considering a option to make a (inaudible) commitment to no-first-use policy in upcoming Nuclear Posture Review?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of the Nuclear Posture Review, (inaudible). We've talked about this before. This is going to be an inclusive, comprehensive process, and I'm certainly not going to forecast what that posture review's going to say. I would remind you that any such policy decision of that nature is going to be made by President Biden.

Q: Just a quick follow-up. The DOD (argued ?) that -- that China intends to possess at least 1,000 nuclear warhead, as Tony mentioned. Do you think the U.S. could maintain a robust nuclear deterrence against China...

MR. KIRBY: It said -- it said 1,000 by 2030.

Q: 1,000 -- yeah. So do you think the U.S. could maintain a robust nuclear deterrence against China even if the U.S. adopts a no-first-use policy?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I'm not going to speculate one way or another about the -- the first-use policy. Again, we're in the middle of a Nuclear Posture Review, (inaudible), and I think you can understand that we're going to want to let that process bear fruit on its own. Any policy decision with respect to that is only going to be made by the commander-in-chief.

To the first part of your question, I can assure you, the secretary is laser-focused on making sure that from a strategic deterrence perspective, the United States military has the capability, nuclear and conventional alike, to be able to defend this country.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: OK.

Pierre?

Q: State Department announced yesterday that they made the determination to approve possible foreign military sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I mean, what is the position of the department or the Pentagon on this?

MR. KIRBY: We support the State Department's decision.

(Kristin ?)?

Q: Thank you, John. The People's Liberation Army air force is going to have an anniversary this next week,72nd anniversary. Are you anticipating anything unveiling to (inaudible), anything like that?

MR. KIRBY: I think you're asking the wrong military. I -- I can't speak for what their anniversary plans or their birthday plans are. You'd have to talk to them about that. Again, we're going to stay focused on making sure that we can meet the pacing challenge that we believe is represented by them -- by -- by the People's Liberation Army.

Q: And I have a follow-up. The Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement that was signed last April by the secretary of defense with the Norwegian -- on the Norwegian side, it has to be ratified, and so far, there hasn't been a ratification vote. Now, that's scheduled for this coming spring. Is there any anticipation of a problem with that, given the change in politics over there and so forth?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I wouldn't speak to domestic politics in -- in Norway. I'd just point you back to the -- the agreement itself and the -- and the -- our -- our strong bilateral defense relationship with Norway.

Q: And how important do you think an agreement like that is for...

MR. KIRBY: Well, obviously, we wouldn't -- we -- we wouldn't have been engaging with Norway if we didn't think it was important. But again, I'm not going to speculate one way or the other about the politics in Norway. That would not be a good place for me to land.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Jeff Seldin, VOA?

Q: John, thanks very much. Two questions, one on Havana Syndrome. The State Department today announced some moves it's making. I know the secretary issued a memo back in September. Is there any update as far as additional confirmed Defense Department cases, or about the Pentagon's efforts to get to the bottom of this?

Second question on Pakistan: Yesterday's Pakistan -- Pakistan's national security advisor said that when it comes to the threat from ISIS-K there have been conversations with the U.S., but, quote, "We are a bit confused on why there isn't clarity that we all need to work together." So from the Pentagon's perspective, is the U.S. trying to work with Pakistan? And -- and if so, what's being done to eliminate Pakistan's confusion?

MR. KIRBY: OK, there's a lot there, Jeff. Let me start with the anonymous* health incidents. The entire government is bringing full resources to bear to determine the cause and identity -- and to identify any foreign actor that may be involved, and to provide access to timely expert medical care for those who are -- who believe they have fallen victim to this phenomenon. Secretary Blinken's announcement today, I would argue, is perfectly in line with this National Security Council-led response.

As for the department, we're heavily engaged on this issue as well, as part of the NSC-led process. The safety, health, and welfare of our personnel remain a top priority for the secretary and for every leader here in the department. We're dedicated to ensuring that all affected employees who experience anonymous health incidents receive appropriate medical care quickly. And again, you saw I think, a little while ago, the Secretary issued a memo to this regard encouraging people who believe that they may have fallen victim to this -- these incidents that they report those incidences as soon as they are able so that we can make sure they get the proper medical care, and that their cases can be appropriately investigated.

On Pakistan, I think what I would say, Jeff, is -- and I'm not aware. You've given me a statement here that first time I heard of it, so I can't speak to the specifics of what Pakistan, according to your statement, they're confused about. What's not confusing to us is that Pakistan still remains a key partner there in the region and that we look for opportunities to continue to work with Pakistan to address what is a shared threat, a shared terrorism threat along that spine between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we're going to continue to explore opportunities to do that. And I would remind, and it's important to remind that Pakistan, as well, has fallen victim to -- to an active terrorist threat from that border region, and Pakistani citizens have been killed, Pakistani citizens have been wounded. So they have a real stake in this. And -- and I think we both understand that. Yes, sir? Abraham?

Q: Thanks, John. I read yesterday in your gaggle; there was quite a bit of talk about accountability with that IG report. Could you kind of break down sort of what's the process for when a report like this comes out? It goes out to the COCOMs, but what could we expect for like how accountability may be assigned? 

MR. KIRBY: I really don't know that I can put it any better than General Syed did the other day, Abraham. I'm not going to relitigate or -- or try to rehash his -- his findings; it's he laid it out for you at that press briefing, far better than I can. And it would be inappropriate for me to do that anyway, given his independence. But as you heard him say the other day, the report and its findings are now -- have now been transmitted to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. And the commanders at those two institutions will now have an opportunity to digest his findings and his recommendations and come back to the secretary in a matter of a couple of weeks with whatever recommendations they have to implement those -- those findings and recommendations by General Syed, and the secretary specifically invited them to come back to him with any additional actions they might deem appropriate.

Now, as you heard General Syed say, that doesn't -- doesn't mean that the door has been closed on accountability. Each of those commanders can take a look at the process breakdowns and can determine for themselves if, in fact, in addition to process improvements, there might need to be accountability at their level, and that would be up to them. It is, as the general said, it's now a commander-led focused effort.

Q: If you don't mind, I've got a couple of quick clarifications. When you say a couple of weeks, is that a hard deadline, like two weeks to report back?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. He gave the combatant commands until the middle of November.

Q: OK. And then the Ukraine comments that you made earlier, when President Zelensky was in town in August, there was quite a bit of talk about how Russian forces are pretty much haven't really reduced since April. And also, they left fighters and helicopters near the border. Is there additional -- are you noticing additional hardware, additional troop movements?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm -- I'm really not going to get into an intelligence assessment here and analysis from -- from the podium. I've gone as far as I'm going to be able to go today. We continue to watch this closely and monitor it. And -- and the movements are of concern. And -- and again, we would -- we would urge Russia to be more clear about its intentions. I think I'll leave it -- I think I'll leave it there.

OK. Oh, we have one more. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, John. On the Connecticut, what guidance has the Navy given, or does it plan to give up to sub-commanders about the circumstances that are out on the collision?

MR. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Navy for that. They have I think you saw their release yesterday about the actions they took with respect to the three senior leaders aboard the USS Connecticut. As for what follow-on processes and procedures that they might implement, that's really for the Navy to speak to.

Q: OK, can I ask you about AUKUS? Last week, the New Zealand's top diplomat in Australia said they were open to joining but that they wouldn't participate in the development of either technology. Is the department open to that kind of partial participation (inaudible) AUKUS?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know what position by the department on that proposal. And that's the first I've heard of that proposal. So I don't want to speculate right now. We're focused on right now the first initiative of AUKUS is to help Australia develop a nuclear submarine kit -- nuclear-propelled submarine capability and that's where our focus is on right now. And that will be led obviously by the Department of the Navy and Navy Nuclear Reactors specifically.

OK, have a great weekend, everybody. Thank you.

Editor’s Note:  The proper term for AHI is “Anomalous Health Incidents”.

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