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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

Dec. 6, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right, just a couple of things at the top. Hopefully, you had a chance to see the secretary's condolence statement about the passing of former Senator Bob Dole. I just want to reiterate the key points of that, obviously, that he was a true American hero; bravely served in World War II in Italy; suffered grievous wounds trying to help save the life of one of his troopers, and then, of course, went on to an incredible life of public service. And all of us here at the Department of Defense want to express our condolences, our thoughts and prayers to the Dole family.

Hopefully, you also got a chance to see the secretary's statement on the inherent risks to the department of a potential long-term continuing resolution now. There is a continuing resolution that was passed, of course. You -- you saw that over the weekend, that ends in mid-February. But we have seen some suggestions. Some people are talking about the potential for a longer-term, maybe even as long as a full year, and the secretary wanted to lay out clearly his concerns about that. I won't reiterate those. Hopefully, you've seen those statements. But essentially, it really does tie the department's hands when it comes to flexibility in terms of budgeting and starting new programs, building new ships, really advancing new capabilities. So he continues to urge Congress to pass an appropriations bill that funds us at the president's request for this fiscal year, so that we can continue to do the job we need to do to defend the nation. And again, if you haven't seen that it's on our site.

I do want to announce that the secretary has approved the next round of departmental advisory boards of committees for resumption of duties and operations. The three that we can announce that we are going to resume and -- are the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Personnel Testing, the Board of Advisors for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the Reserve Forces Policy Board. Positions for these boards will be filled now in the coming weeks, and we'll be transparent with you as that happens, but I did think it was important to let you know that we did restore and announce the resumption of those three boards. We look forward to getting them filled and seeing them get to work and provide useful advice and counsel for the department.

On a personal note, we're pleased to announce the arrival of Mr. Kingston Reif as the new deputy assistant secretary of defense, threat reduction and arms control, and that's part of the Acquisition and Sustainment team. Kingston joined the team right at the end of last month, November 29th, and he comes to the department from a job as the former director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, so we welcome him aboard. Glad to have him here, and look forward to his expertise going forward.

And then finally, tomorrow, I think you all know, is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro will be the keynote speaker at an event out there in Hawaii, attended by approximately 40 Pearl Harbor survivors. The event will begin at 1:40 Eastern time.* It'll be live-streamed, obviously, on our website.

Then at 4:00 P.M. Eastern time, the U.S. Navy, in partnership with the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific will host the reinternment for the 33 remaining unknown sailors who were lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Oklahoma. Through the six-year effort of Project Oklahoma, 355 of 388 sailors and Marines have been identified. So incredible work, and we're grateful for everything that the POW/MIA Office is doing out there in Hawaii. As you know, the secretary had a chance to visit with them not too long ago. It truly is incredible, what they're doing to provide some closure not just for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, but also for so many families of World War II veterans.

OK, with that, we'll start with you, Lita.

Q: Thanks, John. Can you update us on Ukraine and the secretary's schedule? Has he had any meetings in the last couple of days on Ukraine, or any plans for later today to sort of discuss ongoing military buildup of -- of Russian troops on the ground there? And has there been any discussion about increasing military aid? Specifically, are there military advisors on the ground, or is there any talk about putting advisors on the ground there? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: There's a lot there, Lita. I can tell you that the secretary did share a meeting this morning with key departmental leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Wolters out at EUCOM to discuss the situation in Ukraine, and of course, in Western Russia. I won't get into intelligence assessments, but he is staying very keenly and closely-informed by senior military and policy leaders here at the department about what we continue to see, and what we continue to see is added capability that President Putin continues to add, added military capability in the western part of his country and around Ukraine.

I'm not going to get ahead of decisions one way or another that the administration may or may not make here. Lita, as you know, President Biden will be calling and talking to President Putin tomorrow. I think we need to let that conversation happen.

What I would point you to is the secretary's comments over the weekend when he was out at the Reagan National Defense Forum where, you know, he said and still believes that diplomacy and leadership can still make a difference here, and that there needs to be space for that diplomacy and for that leadership to come to play to try to get an outcome here that is destabilizing and that doesn't result in any sort of open or armed conflict.

Yeah, Tom?

Q: John?

Q: Are there still U.S. military trainers in Ukraine? If so, how many? What kind of training is providing, and also, what kind of military equipment is still being provided to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a specific number of advisors that may or may not be on the ground. As you know, Tom, that's a sort of a rotational thing, and it's been in keeping with long-standing support by two different administrations about making sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself. I don't have an update on specifics with that.

Q: Are there operators or...?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have an update, Tom. I don't and I'm not going to speculate one way or another on that.

You have seen this administration, as well as previous administrations continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet. But we have provided millions of dollars' worth of lethal and nonlethal assistance to Ukraine in just the last, you know, 10 months, 11 months that...

Q: Including anti-tank weapons?

MR. KIRBY: It has included antitank weapons, absolutely, but also, nonlethal assistance, as well. And as you heard the secretary say, you know, over the weekend, we're going to continue to look at that. And nothing has changed about our commitment to making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. And it's not just the United States, Tom, as you know. I mean, other NATO allies and partners have also helped contribute to Ukraine's capabilities over the last several years.

But again, I want to go back to what I said before. We don't believe that conflict is inevitable here, and that there is time and space and there's room for diplomacy here to reach the best possible outcome.

Yeah, Abraham?

Q: Yes, thanks, John. I have two questions about same topic. How is Secretary Austin reassuring NATO eastern flank allies about this Russian troop build-up? Are there some specifics, additional rotations or capabilities? There's a lot of promise of assuring the defenses of those NATO allies, but what -- what is he doing?

MR. KIRBY: Well, Abraham, I would -- first of all, you're right. We are reassuring our allies and partners in NATO, across NATO, not just in eastern flank, but certainly in the eastern flank of our commitment to them and to the alliance, there is no question about that. I don't have new proposals or initiatives to announce today, but I would remind you, we have already done an awful lot through the European Reassurance Initiative that was started in the Obama administration and continued right up through today to make sure that we have a credible rotational deployment scheme throughout many of those nations that continues today.

So, again, I don't have any additions to add, but nothing has changed about the rotational support and assistance. The training exercises that we're conducting with many of these countries, all of that continues.

Q: And, if I may, John, another question on the CR impact. Can you talk about how that might impact research and development, especially in hypersonics if there's a year-long continuing resolution?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, the secretary does believe that it will have an impact on our research and development programs. I think you know we submitted with this budget the largest ever request for R&D, for science and technology R&D. And not being able to start those initiatives will definitely have an impact, not just on hypersonics, and I understand the interest in hypersonics, but it goes beyond that. You've heard the secretary talk about integrated deterrence and he talked about this on Saturday, making sure we have the technology in place to better defend this nation against threats such as the kinds of threats that could emanate from places like Russia and China. And when you can't start new programs, when you don't have that money to spend on that sort of investment, it absolutely will affect your ability, your capabilities going forward.

You had another question, though, that I missed on this.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. KIRBY: OK.

Let me go back to the phones here. Luis Martinez?

Q: Hi, John. Thanks for taking the question. With regards to Ukraine, yes, I know you said you have nothing to announce at this time, but does that mean that there has been some planning or some consideration about additional aid packages to Ukraine? And also over the weekend there was some claims made by the Russian Ministry of Defense about some intercepts that may have gone maybe a little too dangerous. If you have any comment on that? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Well, on the first one, I'm just not going to get ahead of decisions and options that the president is going to consider. So I don't want you to read more or less into that, Luis, I'm not trying to signal that, you know, something is in the offing. Back to my answer to Tom, I mean, we have provided tens of millions of dollars just in the last year, less than a year to assist Ukraine and their self-defense capability. And as the secretary himself said, we're going to constantly review that and look at that and make whatever appropriate recommendations are going forward. But I'm not going to get ahead of the president or the administration on this.

And then on your second question about the intercepts, I did see some comments made by Russian authorities of about an intercept. And I think you probably saw European Command had already addressed this particular incident they were talking about had to do with risk to a civilian airliner from U.S. military aircraft. There was no such risk. There was no such unsafe or unprofessional interactions, certainly not by the United States Military. It was a matter that was simply resolved by common sense and routine air traffic control procedures, getting to aircraft that were at the same altitude to not fly at the same altitude and this happens thousands of times all over the world and all manner of different circumstances.

So our Russian friends were speaking a bit hyperbolically about an incident that actually didn't occur. Janne?

Q: Thank you, John. Last week the United States and ROK defense minister had a meeting in South Korea.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I was there. I remember.

Q: Yes. Secretary Austin noted that the Indo-Pacific region is a top priority for the newest Department of Defense. And South Korea is aware that the United States Indo-Pacific priority is competing with China. So therefore, South Korea's Moon Jae-in government is still reluctant to join the Indo-Pacific and Quad, conscious of China. What is your comment?

MR. KIRBY: So there's a lot there. I mean first of all, our approach to the Indo-Pacific is not about containing China or any other nation. It is about frankly dealing with the continued challenges to a free and open Indo-Pacific that we see mounted by China. 

The coercion of their neighbors and economic aggressiveness as well as maritime aggressiveness, particularly in the South China Sea. So there's a lot of national security interest that play in the Indo-Pacific, China is not the only one. Certainly it is a – as the secretary said – a pacing challenge for this Department and significant.

And he had the opportunity to talk about the pacing challenge of China when he was in Seoul for his second visit. And I won't speak for Minister Suh but the Minister recognized and sees those challenges for themselves. They see that as well.

But primarily the discussion in Seoul was about the threat posed by North Korea and threats to stability and security on the Korean Peninsula. And a chance for the Secretary to reiterate our iron clad commitment to our alliance with the ROK and to our shared national security interest there on the peninsula, to making sure that we continue to work towards the goal of a denuclearized peninsula. That was the focus.

And I won't speak for South Korean leaders and how they view the region and what priorities they're putting on their own peace and security, that's for them to speak to. But I can tell you that the secretary left Seoul more confident than ever that this alliance was in a very good place and that we were both uniformly committed to making it stronger going forward. OK.

Q: One more. Regarding the U.S. and South Korea agreed to started a new plan on this and that was put on North Korea and China is impacting -- China is more pressured to South Korea, it's significant right now. A backlash from North Korea and China is expected. So what is your comment for this, if China is going to diplomatically pressure to South Korea, how would the U.S. respond to this?

MR. KIRBY: Well look, I mean a couple of things here. We're not making countries choose between the United States and China and we understand that South Korea has a bilateral relationship with China. We respect that. I mean they're practically neighbors and in all respects, they actually are.

And so we understand that and they're not the only Indo-Pacific nation that has a bilateral relationship with China that is different than the one that we have and we respect that. What we continue to see China do – with nations throughout the region – is to coerce and intimidate and to try to move them to positions of policy and orientation that are more in keeping with China's view of what the region ought to look like and be like than what most of the international community feels.

And certainly our concerns in the United States is that a lot of what China is trying to achieve in the region is actually inimical to what we believe is in our national security interest and certain in the national security interest of our allies and partners.

I would remind you five of our seven treaty alliances are in that region. And we take those commitments very seriously. Again, I'll let the South Koreans speak for their bilateral relations. It's a sovereign country and they should do that.

But we are not unmindful of the kinds of coerciveness and intimidation that China continues to perpetuate throughout the region.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Carla?

Q: Hi, thank you. Two different topics, if I may. First, as I'm sure you've seen the Wall Street Journal report about China's attempt to seek a military base in Equatorial Guinea. Can you confirm that -- that they -- that you've seen evidence that there are trying to establish a base there?

MR. KIRBY: What I would just tell you as -- as part of normal diplomacy to address maritime security issues there in that region, we have made clear, the administration has made clear, I don't know about the Department of Defense necessarily, to the leaders of the Equatorial Guinea that certain potential steps involving the PRC and the PRC's activity there would raise national security concerns for us.

And the administration has been clear about that.

Q: When you say national security concerns, can you help our audience understand what some of those may entail?

MR. KIRBY: Well look, again, just like we were talking about the Indo-Pacific, in Africa they continue to try to coerce behavior out of many African nations and try to intimidate, use economic leverage to seek their own national security goals there, which do not contribute in the end run, we don't believe, to the betterment of security stability there and for the interest of many of these African nations.

Now obviously look, these are sovereign nations and we respect that they will have bilateral relations of their own. That's the way the system works. But what we have seen China try to do there and elsewhere around the world is establish a foothold that they could use. That could advance their own military goals and I think that's the real crux of the issue. I really don't think I want to get any deeper than that.

Q: OK, and separately the continuing resolution included $4.3 billion for DOD to support Afghans on military bases. There's 34,000 still on these bases. There are still only seven bases. Can you help us understand what specifically that money can be used for and if you have any sort of update on the timeline for finishing the process could you share that?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I'll let NORTHCOM speak to the specifics and how that money's going to be broken down, but I think just in general, Carla, remember the DOD mission is to provide a safe and secure environment. It's basically housing them while they work through a process that we don't own. It belongs to DHS and the State Department.

And so, this money -- and we're grateful for it -- will allow us to continue that mission while we still have Afghans on military bases. I would tell you that we have fewer Afghans on military bases than ever before, and more now have processed out than we have waiting to get processed.

So that work continues. I don't have an update. We have seven bases that are doing this now, and I don't have a specific update or timeline to announce on when additional bases will no longer be used for that mission. Fort Lee, as you know, has halted their contributions to Operations Allies Welcome. There are still seven bases doing it, and as we continue to see Afghans leave that will certainly make it easier for us to no longer have to use those seven bases and be able to close those missions down. I just don't have an update for you on the specifics of that.

Q: Just for my clarity, the 34,000 evacuee number, can we just determine if that's the final number after the reductions of this weekend or if that number...

MR. KIRBY: Yes, let me see. I mean, if you give me a second here I might just be able to -- let's see here. OK, Mike. I'm frozen.

STAFF: Oh, fantastic.

MR. KIRBY: You're a good man. OK, so yes. 34,000 in seven locations. We have a capacity for 46,000, so obviously we're not meeting that. Did you want a breakdown by location or?

Q: I just wanted to make sure the 34,000...

MR. KIRBY: 34,000, seven locations. I don't have an update on how they're doing in terms of like what their timeline's going to be, but we're glad to see that a majority of those who came to the United States have now been resettled. Courtney.

Q: So just on Carla's question, you said that what we've seen China trying to do is establish a foothold there and elsewhere, so you're confirming then that China is trying to build a military installation?

MR. KIRBY: No. I'm not confirming that they're trying to build a military installation in Equatorial Guinea. I've said that we've expressed to leaders there our national security concerns. And we absolutely have seen China try to establish footholds. I'm not saying just military footholds. Just footholds in other places around the world, influence that they're trying to gain.

Q: And what -- I mean, what leverage does the U.S. have over Equatorial Guinea? You know, you can express that you have national security concerns about it, but I mean, what can the U.S. do really to convince them not to allow China to establish this foothold? Is there something that the U.S. is offering them or?

MR. KIRBY: It's probably a better question put to my State Department colleagues. Obviously that's a really diplomatic issues, but I would just offer that it's not so much about leverage. It's not so much about trying to get some sort of quid pro quo here. It's really about having an honest conversation with them about the concerns that we have, and we've done that.

Obviously like I said it's a sovereign nation, and we respect their right to have bilateral relations in manners that they see fit, but we wouldn't be doing right by our relationship, our bilateral relationship with them if we weren't honest about what our concerns were. But it's not about enforcing some sort of leverage on them.

Q: Just to be clear, what level were those conversations? About like a DOD to...

MR. KIRBY: It wasn't the Department of Defense. It was done through diplomatic channels. Yes. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, John. My question is about Ukraine. Reports in U.S. media suggests that the U.S. intelligence reached a conclusion that Russia is planning to deploy 175,000 troops to the border and, again, planning to attack a military offensive in early 2022. So does the Department of Defense share that assessment? And should we expect an escalation in the following weeks?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I think I'd point you back to what the secretary said over the weekend. I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments. I've seen the press reporting as you have. I'm not going to speculate about that. What I would tell you is we continue to see a buildup of Russian military forces in the areas around eastern, northeastern, and eastern Ukraine but on obviously in western Russia.

This buildup is concerning to us. It is still not entirely clear what Mr. Putin's intensions are. Again, I won't speak for the White House. I think my colleague at the White House has already spoken to the president's upcoming conversation with President Putin, and what we have done here at the department is continue to have conversations with our allies and partners about this situation, sharing with them what we can about what we're seeing, and making sure that they know that our commitment to NATO and to alliance priorities is simply not going to change.

But again, I want to go back to what the secretary said. There's room here for diplomacy. There's room here for leadership. There's no reason that this has to end up in some sort of conflict or incursion, and again, I won't get ahead of the president's conversation. Yes, Oren.

Q: John, can you give an update or any more information on the Syria drone strike from Friday? DOD had said there was a senior Al-Qaeda leader and planner that was killed. Can you identify him? And can you give an update on the investigation into civilian casualties?

MR. KIRBY: So what I can confirm is that a senior leader with Hurras al-Din, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, by the name of Musab Kinan was the person targeted and killed in a kinetic strike by U.S. forces near Idlib on the 3rd of December. It was a strike conducted from an MQ-9 unmanned aircraft.

The initial review of the strike did indicate the potential for possible civilian casualties. I don't have any updates for you on that. I would point you to CENTCOM for that. As you know, whenever there's a potential for that they do their own investigation and I certainly wouldn't get ahead of that.

On your second question, what review are you talking about?

Q: That one. The -- the investigation --

MR. KIRBY: On this one? Yes. All I know is that they've launched a civilian casualty assessment report, which they have to do when they think there's a potential and as far as I know that's still ongoing. I don't know what the results might be.

Tom?

Q: Thanks John. Welcome back. Two questions. One on one of your opening statement in regard to Mr. Reif, was he -- was his appointment -- is that one of the positions that has to be confirmed by the Senate?

MR. KIRBY: No. That's a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense level. No.

Q: And my second question is, the (inaudible) have confirmed that they're trying to sell mirage jets to the UAE. The UAE is also looking for F-35s. How would you -- how does the Pentagon assess the relationship? Secretary Austin just was there. How does the Pentagon assess the relationship with the UAE in regards to arms sells and then future deployments?

MR. KIRBY: Well look, without getting into arms sells, that's really the purview of the State Department. We were just there, as you noted, and the UAE is a tremendous partner for the United States in the region. They were significant in helping us with the evacuation of Afghans in August and the secretary wanted to thank them personally for that. And to talk to them about continuing efforts for us to cooperate against threats and challenges in the region including terrorist threats.

Again, I won't speak about potential arms sells one way or the other. That's really the purview of the State Department. But the only thing, again, that I'd add is it was no mistake that we made a stop in the UAE because of what a significant partner they are.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Ryo?

Q: Thank you. Last week, U.S. and China defense officials had a working level meeting on the China Military Report.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: What was the tone of the conversation? And did you get better understanding of China's motivation and strategy to expand the nuclear capabilities?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. And this was a routine meeting at a lower level in the department to walk through the China military power and assessment report that we submitted. We gave a read-out of that Ryo. I would point you back to that in terms of what was discussed.

I wasn't in the room so I can't give you a color of what the tone in general was. But my understanding is that it was a professional conversation. And that there was no acrimony necessarily represented on either side there.

Separate and distinct from that, I mean, you've heard the secretary talk about the China challenge in his speech at the Reagan Forum on Saturday. I think he laid it out very well. We see this as a challenge, as a competition that does not need to resort to conflict.

And we see the Chinese continue to develop advance capabilities that are clearly designed in many ways to try to limit the access of the United States and other international partners in the Indo-Pacific, which I believe the Western Indo-Pacific.

Q: Do we have any update on secretary's future engagement with China?

MR. KIRBY: I do not.

Alex Horton, "Washington Post."

Q: Hi John, thanks for that. Welcome back. Curious if you can give sort of a general overview of the rotational forces in Europe, what you are aware and whether any future deployments have been moved up, accelerated, have any been extended under your deployment, what's sort of been the situation there if any in terms of movement either way?

MR. KIRBY: Alex I'm going to take your question because I'm not equipped with that level of detail here in terms of who's where and what rotational deployments are ongoing. I think that's getable information and we'll do that. I don't have any announcements to make today or any changes to the rotational posture to speak to. I think as you saw when we rolled out the global posture review a week or so ago, Dr. Carlin talked about the importance of these rotational deployments and that they would continue; the Secretary reiterated that in recent conversations he's had with many of our partners. In fact he talked to the Polish Minister of Defense on the way to Seoul last week and that was certainly one of his messages was that we value that relationship and those rotational deployments to Poland are going to continue. But let me take your question if you'll permit me and we'll see if we can get you a cleaner laydown, I'm just I'm not equipped for that right now.

Q: Can you also take Tom’s question? Those troops that may still be training Ukrainian --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I'm happy to take that.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: What I can do Court is give you what we have already approved this year in terms of the security assistance. I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made one way or the other. I will see if we can get him an answer on the advisors. Yeah, in the back there.

Q: Are you seeing any reluctance from European allies on common action that may be taken against that shot in Ukraine, I'm speaking here about Germany.

MR. KIRBY: I won't speak for other countries. They would have to make decisions on their own. What I can tell you is that we continue to consult with our allies and partners, particularly our NATO allies about what we're seeing and about what our concerns are. But each of those allies is a sovereign nation and they have to make decisions for themselves about their assessments of what we're seeing and whether and to what degree they want to help hold Russia accountable, should Russia try to make an incursion into Ukraine, another incursion into Ukraine. I can't speak to that.

All I can tell you is that we're deeply concerned about it. We're watching it closely. We are consulting with allies and partners and as the Secretary said over the weekend, we still believe that there's space for diplomacy and leadership here.

Q: One more question please about Israeli Defense Minister visit. Is any --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- Defense Minister?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: Israeli News -- reported that the Minister wants to come up with a plan B in case negotiations with Iran fail. How do you comment on that?

MR. KIRBY: Well look as you know we are in the midst of negotiations to try to get our way, to find a way back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is really more for our National Security Council and our State Department colleagues to speak to rather than here at the Department of Defense. What the Secretary has made very clear is that no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear-armed Iran. And that we continue to support here the efforts of our diplomats to find a way to return to the Iran Deal.

Now our colleagues across the river there have already spoken to how things are going in Vienna; I'd point you to them as to how progress is occurring. The other thing that the Secretary has said that separate and distinct from our desire to see a diplomatic return to the JCPOA, we have an obligation to defend our interest in the Middle East, which means we have to continue to have a robust footprint there and we do and we need to have a robust set of capabilities and operational concepts to use those resources and we do. And the global posture review that we laid out a week or so ago stresses that, reiterates that. Obviously there are some changes that could occur over time but in general we believe that we are posture-appropriately to defend our national security interests against a range of threats, to include those threats from Iran going forward.

I certainly won't speak for Israeli counterparts and what their intentions are one way or the other. And I think the Secretary looks forward to meeting with Minister Gantz later in the week; we'll have an official announcement out relatively soon about that, but he's looking forward to that discussion. It'll be the most recent of several that he has had with Minister Gantz since he became Secretary of Defense.

Q: (inaudible) -- option on that day but in case a negotiation --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I'm simply not going to get into hypotheticals here. We have a responsibility here to protect our national security interests in the region and we're going to continue to look at that. What the Secretary has said is he supports very much a diplomatic resolution to Iran's growing nuclear ambitions and no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear-armed Iran. Okay? Jim.

Q: John the other day at the Reagan Forum, the Secretary said that he was concerned about the public's drop in the approval rating of the U.S. military and then he said he would like to study it, as a first sort of iteration. Do you have any theories on why the public's perception of the U.S. military has fallen so much?

MR. KIRBY: Well what he said was he wanted to spend more time with the survey. I mean he had had a chance to look at it briefly before going to the Reagan National Defense Forum and I think you heard him say that certainly the numbers represented in that survey are not going in the directions he would like to see them in terms of trust and confidence. It's concerning. So I think he wants to take a little bit more time to look at it.

I won't speculate for him about what's behind those numbers but I would point you to what he talked about there in his interview with Brett Baier that you know that we are an all-volunteer force and the men and women who serve in this department come from homes and families all over the country and so the American public's perceptions of the United States military matters to us, not just from a recruiting perspective, although that's valid, but also from a representational perspective.

And the trust and confidence, the American people, we continue to believe is critically important to the institution and just like it matters to us, we are not immune to the kinds of polarization that we see out in the American society. I mean because we come from America, what's out there in our society affects us, it absolutely does. So I think he wants to spend a little bit more time and try to see if there's some wisdom he can glean from the survey. He obviously took it seriously when he had a chance to at least look at it briefly.

The other thing he said is if he believes that if the American people could see what he sees when he's out there with our troops like he was in Seoul, like he was just a week or so ago on a minesweeper in Bahrain, if they could see what he sees in terms of what the troops are actually focused on, not the perceptions of what they're focused on, but what they're actually focused on that he's confident that the American people would be just as proud as he is of them and just as confident in their capabilities. Jeff Schogol.

Q: Thank you very much, the 51st Striker Brigade Combat Team with the Florida National Guard is currently in Ukraine. Are they allowed to follow their charges into combat?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, I'm going to have to take your question. I have to confess to not having at my fingertips the deployment schedules of the Florida National Guard, so we'll see if we can take that question. We may end up referring you to the Florida National Guard or to the National Guard Bureau, Jeff, but you're going to have to excuse my ignorance on this one.

Q: Thank you. Does the U.S. also plant any antipersonnel mines between Belarus and Kaliningrad to protect the Slovaki gap?

MR. KIRBY: I know of no such plans, Jeff. OK, I'll take one more. Yes, ma'am? And then to you, Megan.

Q: Thank you for taking my question. One of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. economy is in the area of space, and the ability for that to continue to grow is based on viable defensive space, and that, of course, brings us back to the continuing resolution and what that impact might have on our well educated service member population and the ability to continue being on the cutting edge of technology development? Can you speak to that? And then I have another question.

MR. KIRBY: I think I would point you to the secretary's statement on the potential for a long-term CR. Remember, the CR now funds us through mid February. And as Carla noted, there is some funds represented in there to help us with Operation Allies Welcome. A CR is not the ideal way to fund the department, and I think everybody understands that.

And what we're concerned about here and you hopefully saw it in the secretary's statements is the potential for a long-term, maybe as long as a full year. That's where it really begins to be damaging not just to our R&D and to our ability to start new programs and, like I said, build new ships, but also in terms of making sure our troops get the pay raise that they've so richly deserved. I mean, they'll still get that pay raise but it'll come at a cost of other things that we'll have to defund or at least reduce funding for.

So I would just point you back to what he said. I don't have any specific space impacts to speak to. Again, this is a partial CR only until mid February. Yes?

Q: OK, then my other question has to do with since there is this perception of U.S. focus being on what's happening in Ukraine right now along the border there as Russia amasses troops and then some of the focus on the JCPOA, all of that stall out in the Middle East, is there any -- has there been any diminution of focus or force posture in the Indo-Pacific, especially around the Sea of Japan and all that area? So (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY: Not at all. Not at all, and I think, again, I'd point you back to the global posture review that we just recently released which made clear that the Indo-Pacific is our priority region. The secretary was just there and gave a pretty comprehensive set of remarks on Saturday about the China challenge specifically. We still are laser focused on that pacing challenge and I don't -- I don't see any diminution of that effort, that focus and the application of resources to that challenge given other challenges around the world.

Look, we're a global power. We have global responsibilities. And it's not either or. It's not focus on the China challenge at the expense of all others. Again, I think if you go through the global posture review you can see that we're still investing in many places around the world, we're still applying resources.

That's not just people and bases but actual capabilities all over the world and that's going to continue. We have global responsibilities that we have to meet and we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Q: So another National Guard official is questioning the Pentagon's official narrative of what happened here on January 6 in terms of sending troops over to the capital to stop the insurrection. The DOD IG has said that everything was good to go.

I know you don't speak for the IG but is there any motivation here to review or further investigate how all of that happened to sort of close the gap to what the D.C. guard is saying and what the Army/The Pentagon has been saying about how that went?

MR. KIRBY: No, there'll be no such effort.

Q: All right. One more thing. The secretary last week gave the military departments today the deadline to publish their policy for how they're going to enforce vaccines for National Guard and for the Ready Reserves; did those policies have to be sent up to OSD for any sort of approval or discussion or did this secretary read about them before the services?

MR. KIRBY: No, he’s been well informed by the service secretaries and military departments about how they're executing on the mandatory vaccine.

Q: So specifically for how they're going to enforce the National Guard and the Ready Reserve as you have --

MR. KIRBY: Let me take that particular question.

Q: OK. Because again, the deadline for their publication is supposed to be today.

MR. KIRBY: OK, let me take that question. I wasn't tracking the Reserve National Guard piece, so let me ask. OK. All right.

QUESTION: Hey, John.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: Jeff's question about the advisors, he also asked if they are permitted to fall the people they are training to the front and you didn't address that part of it.

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to --

Q: I mean are they permitted to do that is the question. Not will they do that but are they permitted to do that?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I took the question and I'm going to leave it at that, Tom. But to the larger point here; there's no reason for this to come to blows. There's no reason for this to become a conflict. As the secretary said, there's still space for diplomacy and leadership. I understand and appreciate the way of asking that question to try to get me to speculate on whether or not we're going to get involved or not.

I mean, but -- no, no, Tom; I'm not talking about for you, I'm talking about the way it was first posed. So I'll take the question. I'll find out or we'll send them to the National Guard Bureau to get an answer to that.

I'm not informed about the Florida National Guard's deployment schedule. But as the secretary has said and said many times over the weekend, there's still space and time for diplomacy and leadership. There's no reason for this to devolve into armed conflict and what we will continue to do and what we have done in Ukraine is help Ukraine defend itself.

To help them with self defense capabilities and that effort continues. And again, I won't speculate about future decisions but we've been very clear about that. OK, thanks everybody.

[* Editor’s note: The Secretary of the Navy’s remarks will actually take place at 12:40 p.m. EST.]

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