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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

May 19, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  A new record.  I do my best to be late for you.  OK.  Quite a few things to get through at the top here.  So bear with me.  I think you all should have now, if you -- if you don't when you back to your desk you'll have it a statement by the department about the next tranche of presidential draw down authority.  Another $100 million dollars. 

This was in preexisting authorities that we already had available to us and in that package there will be 18 155 millimeter howitzers, 18 tactical vehicles to tow those howitzers and 18 artillery tubes basically is our equivalent of a battalion.  An artillery battalion.  And three ANTPQ 36 counter artillery radars. 

This is the same counter artillery radar system that we talked about before that had been provided to Ukraine and then some ancillary field equipment and spare parts.  And that -- that brings to a close the pre-existing authorities that we had in drawn down 100 million.  That stuff will start to flow very, very soon.  I cannot give you an exact date of when it's all going to show up in Ukraine.

But you can imagine having seen us do this in the past that we're not going to sit on our hands.  We'll start flowing that stuff immediately and these are all items that we have provided in the past.  So there's a process in place for that.  So there's that.

That means that we have now committed approximately $4.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of this administration.  And that includes approximately $3.9 billion just since the beginning of Russia's invasion on the 24th of February.

So basically $4 billion just since the beginning of the invasion.  And since 2014, overall the United States has committed more than $6.6 billion in security assistance.  And then obviously we're going to continue to work with allies and partners to continue to provide additional capabilities.  I think you know that.

OK.  On to the news last night about support for the baby formula crisis here in the country.  U.S. transportation command is expeditiously coordinating across federal agencies to include the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration to support the president's direction to conduct Operation Fly Formula.

U.S. Transportation Command will leverage it's partnership with commercial air carriers to contract and accelerate the importation of infant formula into the United States that meets our government’s health and safety standards.

Now we're in this active coordination right now.  I do not have a specific flight to speak today or -- or exact quantities to speak to today.  We are in active coordination with the interagency.  We've got our marching orders and we'll work through this.  And the first step of that is, again, working with the interagency to identify locations where formula can be had overseas and then get -- getting -- getting the right aircraft in place to bring that to the United States and then of course working out the destinations. 

So I'm sure you all have a lot of questions about this.  We are in the very early stages of working through this.  We all share the same sense of urgency and we will participate and cooperate to the best of our ability but I just don't have like specific aircraft information to give you today. 

As I think you know, today the Secretary is hosting his Spanish counterpart, Spanish Ministry of Defense Margarita Robles to the Pentagon.  We'll have a read out of that meeting later today.   That meeting's ongoing.

This morning I think you also know the Secretary shared a working breakfast with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin "Benny" Gantz, two leaders who know each other quite well.  Discussed the administration's commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and addressing Iran's destabilizing actions throughout the region.

The secretary commended Minister Gantz on Israeli's -- on Israel's deepening relationships with countries across the region and the increasing opportunities from military to military cooperation that are enabled by Israel's transition into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Quick update out of SOUTHCOM this week, from the 16th all the way through today the U.S. Southern Command has been hosting U.S. Chiefs of Mission and senior policy makers from the Western Hemisphere for a conference to discuss support to U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

And those discussions we are told have gone very, very well.  And then lastly, just on schedule again, the Secretary will be taking some time later this afternoon to meet with the members of the suicide prevention independent review committee and as they -- as they kick off their deliberations.

So he's very much looking forward to that.  that'll be very soon this afternoon and this thing died on me.  OK, with that Ben Fox, questions.  Perfect timing for it to die, by the way, it's good.  Ben.

Q:  All right.  Yeah, with respect to NATO, what types of things would the U.S. be willing to do in order to help provide security assurances to Finland and Sweden, particularly during the time before any formal approval of NATO membership? Would -- would that, for example, include increased troop rotations into the countries?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, Im not going to get ahead of where we are with staff level discussions with Finland and Sweden. We’ve said before these are two militaries we know very well. We’ve operated with them in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo and we exercise with them routinely. And we are actively now talking to them about what kind of security assurances they might need or welcome. And we'll work our way through that at that -- at that level, but I don't have anything specific to speak to in terms of actual deliverables on that when we have more to say on it and when we can talk about it, we certainly will.

In the room, yeah, in the back there.

Q:  Hi, there, John. Wondering if you can tell us at all, with the newly passed bill that's expected to be signed, what types of equipment will you be sending first in those tranches?

MR. KIRBY:  So, as you know, there's a good chunk of the -- of this -- this new supplemental that will go to presidential drawdown authority, and the Congress added some additional money to that. So, it's -- we asked for 5 billion, there's -- I'll get you in a second. Let me -- let me answer the question, and then we'll -- we'll -- that way, you're just not going to exhaust your arm holding it up there because my answers can be quite long.

So, those additional funding that will go to presidential drawdown authority, we -- we are in constant communication with the Ukrainians about what they need on an almost daily basis. So, we already have some thoughts about future systems and material that will go. I don't want to get ahead of decisions yet. Because I mean, there's a process here that has to play out in terms of what we propose to the Ukrainians, the back and forth we have with them, and then what ultimately the President authorizes.

But I can tell you this, that just like you saw with the $100 million we just signed out today, the kinds of things that will go forward will be relevant to Ukraine and to the fight that they're in, understanding that over time that fight is going to change. So, the future drawdown packages will probably, at least in terms of frequency, look a lot like what we've done in the past. I mean, we now have -- we now have some longer runway. And so, we're going to meter these out appropriately so that Ukraine is getting what it needs in the fight that they're in, and that flight could change over time. So, I don't want to get ahead of where we are; I don't want to speculate about future specific systems.

But go ahead.

Q:  (OFF-MIC) with the fight in the Donbas going on right now?

MR. KIRBY:  It is not out of the realm of the possibility to all that there'll be future artillery systems in there. But again, I don't want to -- I don't want to speculate or get ahead of where we are. Artillery clearly has proven to be a critical element for the Ukrainians in this fight. We said that when the war was going to now go into the Donbas that it was a fight that was going to be heavily reliant on long-range fires and artillery. And we've seen that bear out; we know that the majority, vast majority of the howitzers that we have sent, just the ones we have sent, are actually on the front lines in various places in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are using them and using them quite effectively. So, as you said, we just send another 18, or we're gonna send another 18 here soon, it's entirely possible that artillery could be in future drawdown packages, but we'll work that through and just like we've done it in the past, we will -- we'll be as transparent with you when we can. When we have made these decisions, we'll certainly make that public.

No, no, he had his hand up first, and he waited a long time.

Q: OK, would you finish the thought? You started with Caitlyn saying we had asked for 5 billion, and you got off. Did they provide...

MR. KIRBY:  The original request was 5 billion, and the Congress added some additional funds to this. I don't have the exact figure, but they added some additional PDA authority.

Q:  That's all. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q:  Jamal Elshayyal, from Al Jazeera English. I wanted to talk to you about the working breakfast between the Secretary of Defense and then against the readout didn't mention anything about the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Obviously, there's a lot of condemnation that's come from U.S. lawmakers with regards to the killing of the journalist; it is highly likely that she was killed using an American weapon, considering the weaponry used by the Israeli military. Was this discussed in between the two during the meeting? And if indeed there was some sort of an investigation that established that a U.S. weapon was used to kill an American journalist, will there be any reprimand or sanctioning from the U.S. with regards to this?

MR. KIRBY:  What I can say is the subject did come up in the breakfast, and the Secretary welcomed Israel's intent statement, a clear statement of intent to investigate this. He welcomes that -- that -- hey...

Q:  (OFF-MIC) they came out today saying they will not investigate it. They refuse...

MR. KIRBY:  It's the Government of Israel. It's not for the Israeli military. I believe it's in their Ministry of Interior. And they have stated a clear intent to investigate, and the Secretary welcomed that -- that investigation. And obviously, we look forward to seeing what the investigation finds out. But I'm not going to get ahead of it or speculate about what the outcomes might be one way or the other.

Q:  Sure, but do you not think that there is a bit of room for concern, considering it is Israel that is accused of killing the journalist? And if it was another country, let's say that killed an American journalist, maybe the U.S. wouldn't be so welcoming to allowing for that country to investigate itself? Let's say it was Iran or another country...

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah. Look, I appreciate the chance, the opportunity here to get me to speculate about investigations that haven't been started for events that haven't happened yet. We welcome the fact that there'll be an investigation. We've made clear that we want to see this investigation be thorough and transparent, and complete. But I also don't think it serves -- serves anybody's purpose to get ahead of it when it's ongoing, and it hasn't -- it hasn't concluded. So, let's see what the investigation comes -- comes back and what it says. But it did come up in the conversation.

Yes, ma'am.

Q:  Hey, John. Tima from Al Jazeera English. Just to follow up on Jamal's question, would you support an independent investigation?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we've already said we -- we welcome the fact that the Israeli government is -- is indicated a willingness to investigate this. And I'm not going to get ahead of the process where we are.

Travis?

Q:  Thanks, John. I had a few questions about the baby formula flights. I just wanted to clarify; you said that Transcom is going to be working with commercial partners. Does that mean there won't be any military aircraft involved? It's going to be a contracted commercial carriers...

MR. KIRBY:  We -- we believe at this point that the probably the most expeditious and, quite frankly, the most cost-efficient way to support this immediate need would be through commercial contract carriers. Transcom does not believe they have to activate the CRAF. At this point, they believe they can probably handle this again most efficiently with contract carriers that -- that are already in the satellite -- satellite -- the orbit of -- of carriers that they work with every single day. And they do. I mean, so much of the security assistance that goes to Ukraine, for instance, is going on contract carriers, not gray tails.

That said, Travis, if -- if a -- if a requirement can best be met by a gray tail, Transcom will certainly have the authority to use a gray tail, but they believe right now, probably the best and most efficient way to do this is with contract carriers. We'll see. We just don't have a lot of detail right now. We're working it out closely with -- with HHS.

Q:  You had talked earlier in the week; I think about the stocks in the U.S. and overseas commissaries. I think 50 percent, you said, in the U.S. and 70 percent overseas. Do you have any updates on those numbers? Whether they -- if the stocks have dwindled? And are military families somewhere on this priority list? Are there discussions about whether some of these formula from overseas might be going to commissaries?

MR. KIRBY:  I did check on the numbers, the -- those numbers are still relevant 50 percent stockage levels here at home and in our commissaries and 70 percent overseas. And the Defense Commissary Agency continues to evaluate this against the need every single day. I know of no changes to those policies or priorities. Obviously, we're not immune to the same shortages that the rest of the American people are experiencing with respect to baby formula. We take the President's direction very, very seriously. And -- and we'll work this as hard as we can.

Yeah, Barbara.

Q:  For I think, what is the first time you call this a baby formula crisis? You use the word "crisis." That's not a word the Pentagon uses lightly. So, can you tell us a little bit more about, you know, how the Secretary is getting information on this? Has he appointed? Is there any kind of working group? Is there any kind of watch group? Has he appointed -- asked somebody to take charge in the building of making sure he's getting the information he needs on this? What has led you to the conclusion to use the word crisis?

MR. KIRBY:  I think it's -- it's evident, Barbara, that there's a significant shortage out there in the American population of baby formula. And the President is taking this very, very seriously. That's why he called for the use of the Defense Production Act and asked for DOD to support HHS and agriculture in terms of finding inventories overseas that we can bring -- bring home. I think I was simply stating the obvious, which I think we've all recognized that it's -- that it's an issue out there in the American population, and the Department of Defense will do everything we can to help alleviate that. There has not been an establishment of a -- of a group here at the Pentagon to manage this. The U.S. Transportation Command is going to be our lead agency for working with the interagency to find these inventories and to try to get them here to the United States.

Q:  And I have a quick follow-up on a different subject. Earlier today, a senior defense official talking about the situation at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said right now, there's no U.S. military security component to their embassy security needs. So, that is broader no -- no military security component broader than just a U.S. Marine embassy -- a U.S. Marine embassy contingent? If you -- and I fully understand it comes at the request of the State Department, but nonetheless, if there's no U.S. military security component to the embassy security needs, are you not concerned? I don't know how to put it other than you could have a repeat of the kind -- not exactly, but the kind of tragedy that we've seen so many years ago in Benghazi, where some of the State Department didn't feel security was required military security was brought in late because they weren't asked to be there. Do you just wait for the State Department? Or do you, at some point, take a more assertive role and say, we have assessed, and we think you need security? Or do you think no security is needed by anything other than State Department personnel?

MR. KIRBY:  I would say we work very closely with the State Department about their security requirements. And those security requirements are not the same in any two places around the planet. So, we are in direct conversations and coordination with our State Department colleagues about their -- their security footprint there at the Embassy in Kyiv. And I don't have anything to announce today with any changes to how that's -- to how that's going to be done in the future. We're in constant communication with them. And I don't think that it would be helpful for me at all in any way from the podium to talk about what that security footprint looks like, what the postures look -- looks like, and -- and how that -- and how the security requirements are going to get filled. And I would certainly refer you to the State Department to speak to -- to their decision-making process in terms of -- of how they better secure diplomacy and their diplomats. If there's a -- if there is a validated need for U.S. military assistance, then again, that's a discussion that we will absolutely have with the State Department. I mean, nothing's -- we obviously want our diplomats to be able to do their jobs. And we're -- we're glad to see that -- that they've resumed operations in Kyiv. We agree with them that that's an important move. And if there's something that the U.S. Department of Defense can do to assist them in their diplomatic work, then we'll have that conversation with them.

Q:  So, you're being very -- just be clear. You're being very prospective, shall we say, in looking down the road? You are repeating saying you will have that conversation if there's a need. You're being...

MR. KIRBY:  We are having that conversation with the State Department about -- about what their security requirements might look like. But it's ultimately up to the Secretary of State to determine, there or anywhere else around the world, how he wants to better secure and protect his diplomats. And -- and -- and if there's a role that we can play, then we will absolutely have that discussion with them. But I'm not going to get ahead of where things are right now. And I am certainly not going to talk here from the podium about the security footprint at that or any other embassy. I think you can understand we wouldn't want -- we wouldn't want to go there.

Yes.

Q:  Thank you. John, as you know, Afghanistan, people situation gets worse everyday woman situation, you know, Taliban, push them to force them to wear a burqa throughout the day. And the other side that accorded week ago said, we are close friend with American, we are not enemy. America is not our enemy if it's not the enemy, although I asked this question from the State Department. If you have a good relationship with America, then why don't you open the school for women in Afghanistan?

And the other side, as I read the report for the Pentagon yesterday, Pentagon concerned about Daesh also, and $7 billion value equipment of the United States left behind in Afghanistan. That is complicated, what do you think? And the second question...

MR. KIRBY:  Whoa, whoa -- what's your first question?

Q:  The first question is about...

MR. KIRBY:  What do I think about what?

Q:  Daesh. Pentagon is concerned...

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, and we talked about this the other day the last time I was at the podium. I mean, we've -- we've been nothing but clear and consistent that we don't want to see a return of -- of ISIS, particularly ISIS-K inside Afghanistan. They're already there, but I mean, you know, growth in their capabilities such that it would threaten our interest. And we're watching this as closely as we can.

Q:  How about Al-Qaeda?

MR. KIRBY:  Same thing.

Q: OK. Do you accept Haqqani’s friendship? The Taliban say we are friends with the United States; we are not enemies.

MR. KIRBY:  I'll tell you what we -- what we won't accept is another threat to the homeland that emanates from Afghanistan. And that's why we're going to stay focused on making sure we have an over the horizon counterterrorism capability to deal with that.

Q:  And also, there is a rumor that the United States wants to establish a military base in Pakistan. Is it true?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not gonna...

Q:  (OFF-MIC)

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know any -- I have no updates in terms of military bases in the region. We are talking to regional partners, about -- about possibilities to help us improve our over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities, but I don't have any updates for you or anything specific and talk about.

Yeah, in the back there.

Q:  (OFF-MIC). Thank you. Going back to the NATO summit, I would like to know; I wonder if you will be able to give more details about what's being cooked? Because...

MR. KIRBY:  What's being cooked?

Q:  Yes, before the -- before the summit, because they are talking about a new strategic concept that it's going to be set during this summit. So, what does this mean? And also, my second question is, will the U.S. be willing to send troops to Sweden or Finland? If they ask them for -- or they ask NATO for any help?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the Secretary-General Stoltenberg has talked quite a bit about the NATO's New Strategic Concept. I'd point you back to the comments he has made. I know that they will, clearly in June in Madrid, want to talk about the future of the alliance and how the alliance needs to continue to evolve and transform for the security environment that has actually changed in Europe. Clearly, it has. And NATO is now more relevant than ever. And I know that without speaking for the Secretary-General, he's eager to have that discussion with allies in June. I won't get ahead of that discussion. We are very much looking forward to participating in that.

On Sweden and Finland, I think I'd go back to what I said before; we are in conversations with both countries now that they have both applied, but they have not yet been assessed. We have -- we're having staff-level conversations with -- with both militaries about any potential security assurances and/or capabilities that -- that they might appreciate having availability to in this time between application and accession. And we just haven't. Those discussions are -- are ongoing, and we just haven't come to any final conclusions about that. But I would just, again, make two points. One, we certainly strongly support their accession in the alliance. And as I said before, these are two militaries we know very well. And we're confident that should there be specific assurances or capabilities that they need that we can provide, we'll be able to do that. We just haven't completed those conversations right now. So, I really don't have anything specific to talk to you right at this point.

Yeah, in the back there.

Q:  Thanks, John. I was gonna ask two questions, but one on Finland and Sweden. We heard from Moscow many times that it would be a scorched earth if they were to join NATO. Is the Pentagon worried that this may be the last straw that pushes Putin over the edge and head to World War?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't possibly get inside Mr. Putin's head to determine what he will or won't do. I mean, he did make comments earlier this week that -- that he was not overly concerned. I don't have the exact words. But the impression he left was that their accession into NATO itself wasn't a matter for -- for a great concern to Russia. But I'll -- I'll let Mr. Putin speak for himself in terms of -- of -- of how he intends to react to this.

I would just remind, and it's important to keep reminding this, NATO is a defensive alliance; it does not pose an offensive threat to any other nation and never has. That's not the purpose of it. It's a defensive alliance. And -- and, again, we welcome Sweden and Finland's application; the United States looks forward to working with them through the accession process. And we're confident, and you heard the Secretary say this yesterday, in his meeting with the Swedish Defense Minister, that -- that they will be nothing but the additive capability to the NATO -- to NATO's defensive capabilities because they are, you know, very modern, and very capable military. So, we -- we welcome their eventual accession into NATO.

Q:  And just one more if I may on legislation, the deal that was reached in the Senate, and they're poised to get this done finally. Can you tell us how the Pentagon will help the VA in identifying soldiers and those who may have been affected by the burn pit and then get them that help?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't want to get ahead of pending legislation here. And we try not to comment on that. But I do want to make clear how seriously the Secretary takes this issue. Having -- being a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, it's -- it's a -- it's a personal thing for him, too. He takes this very seriously. And he and Secretary McDonough have talked about this issue specifically many times, and he is absolutely committed to working directly and very closely with the VA on helping address, analyze and -- and deal with burn pit after effects and injuries and -- and medical treatment that's required for -- for exposure to burn pits. It's a serious issue. He's taken it seriously, and again, he and Secretary McDonough are latched up very, very tight on this. Again, I won't talk about the pending legislation specifically. But I can assure you it's definitely on the Secretary's mind.

Yeah, Goyle.

Q:  Thanks, sir. Two questions. One on Afghanistan, one on Sri Lanka; as far as Afghanistan is concerned, you think the Taliban are living up to the promises they made to the U.S. and to the global community because, in recent days, there were bombings at girls' schools, and also women are now being forced to many things which they said they will not go through.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I think my State Department colleagues have talked about this. And I'll leave it to them to speak to -- to issues like that, Goyle. We're focused here at the Department of Defense on making sure that another 9/11-type attack cannot occur from or emanate from Afghanistan. And that's what we're focused on.

Q:  And Sri Lanka is in crisis politically, and also, militarily and also collapse of the government there as far as this building is concerned, anybody is in touch with Sri Lanka government, because of the heavy loans from China took this one family running to Sri Lanka. And now they're in trouble. Their whole community and the whole region is in trouble because of that.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update here from the Defense Department on that. Again, I'd refer you to my colleagues at the State Department to speak to Sri Lanka.

Let me go to the phones here. Sylvie?

Q:  Hello. I have two questions. First, about the Ukrainian fighters from Mariupol who just surrendered, I wanted to know if the U.S. is trying to facilitate any negotiation to help them to go back to Ukraine? And my second question is about grain and grain exports. Are there any talks about creating a security arrangement so that Ukraine grain can be exported? Either from Odessa or elsewhere?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, Sylvie, I mean, obviously, we -- we know that the Russians continue to -- to be able to blockade in the Black Sea and prevent exports of grain from Ukraine. And we obviously understand the economic impact that not only to Ukraine but -- but to so many other countries around the world. I mean, this is something that the administration is -- is having discussions on from an interagency perspective. Excuse me. And I'm not going to get ahead of those discussions.

And then your other question was on the -- on the soldiers taken from the -- as of stall plant. I mean, look, the -- our expectation is, just like -- just -- and we've said this before, is that all prisoners of war will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the law of war. That's our expectation, and we'll be clearly watching this closely with that expectation. But beyond that, I have nothing more to say.

Tara Copp?

Q:  Hi, there. Thanks for taking this. With the -- just getting back to the Marine security detachments, is there any possibility of a different type of security arrangements like through contractors, or something that's being considered instead of actually having U.S. boots there protecting the embassy? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Again, Tara, this is a -- this is a better question put to the State Department, they are in charge of security for -- or determining what security footprint they want and obviously if the United States military can assist. And, you know, we have Marine security guards at embassies around the world. I mean, it's not like we don't recognize we play a role here. But it is in -- the footprint of that and what that looks like and how it's comprised is all done in close consultation with the State Department. And I'm simply not going to get ahead of where they are in terms of their security protocols at Kyiv. I mean, those are much better questions put to them at this time.

Tom?

Q:  Thanks, John, for doing this. Two quick questions. One, is it just a coincidental timing that the new $100 million shipments towards Ukraine came the same day as -- as the Senate passed the 40 billion? Just a coincidence of timing or...

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware that there was any direct linkage. I think we -- we -- we have -- we have limited to no ability to dictate on what schedule the Congress passes proposed legislation.

Q:  Fair enough. My second question is could you give us a little non-security details on the calls today between General Milley and Gerasimov.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have more than the readout. I mean, I would encourage you to speak to General Milley staff for that. I will tell you the Secretary was glad to see that the conversation happened. Because as we said when he spoke to Minister Shoigu, you know, a few days ago. I mean, we believe it's important for the lines of communication to be open. So, the fact that General Milley was, for the first time since I think the 11th of February, able to speak to General  Gerasimov we certainly -- we certainly believe that's a good thing.

Q:  ... the call? The Pentagon?

MR. KIRBY:  You'd have to talk to the joint staff. I don't know. I mean, I do know that -- that General Milley and his staff had been trying as we had been trying to reach Minister Shoigu, they had been trying to reach General Gerasimov. But what -- what transpired to lead to this particular phone call? I'd ask you to speak to General Milley's staff.

Q:  Can I follow up Super quick? Do you have any sense of, in both cases, what has led the Russians to now be willing to talk? What's changed their mind? Do you assess that Putin would have had to approved this; they would not have done it on their own?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know, Barb. I don't think we could possibly know exactly what sort of internal deliberations they had in terms of accepting -- finally accepting the invitation to call that's not the -- and frankly, we're not worried about that. We're not concerned about why, this time, they both decided to pick up the phone. We're just glad that they did.

Q:  Well, it must have indicated a shift in their position in some way...

MR. KIRBY:  I think if you just look at the -- it's hard to look at what's going on -- on the ground and say that there's some sort of shift in -- in the Russian position with respect to the war, they continue to try to occupy the Donbas they continue to fight in the South. They continue to, you know, to put forces on the ground. So, I mean, the war continues, and it's very real. So, it's difficult to look at events on the ground and say that there's some eureka moment for Russia with respect to their activities in Ukraine.

Yeah, Joe.

Q:  Thanks. Reuters reported today that the administration is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian forces. Can you confirm that report, one? And two, given the danger of a global famine, is helping defeat Russia's naval blockade a priority here? Or is that outweighed by concerns about sinking Russian warships and -- and the potential for escalating the conflict?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, again, Joe, I'll tell you as we continue to talk to Ukrainians about what their needs are, and we do the best we can to meet those needs. And if we can't, we're certainly working with allies and partners who can. I'm not going to speculate about systems that haven't been sent or approved to be sent yet. I will tell you what we can when we -- when we've made these decisions, and that's where I think we need to be.

And look on the -- on the blockade, again, we recognize the economic impact this is having. And it is -- it's an issue that not only the interagency is talking about, but the world community is talking about. And I just don't think it's helpful for me to speculate beyond that. The President has made clear U.S. forces will not be fighting in Ukraine. That has not changed.

Yeah. No, I already got you. No, no, no, I already got you. Go in the back there. Go ahead. Not him; he already had his question.

Q:  It was a different topic I was going to ask.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sure it was. We'll get back to you.

Q:  Is the U.S. open to training more Ukrainians on U.S. soil?

MR. KIRBY:  All the training being done right now is being done outside of Ukraine, but in Europe, and we think that's quite frankly, the -- the best option, because you can take a small number of fighters out of the fight, get them trained up, they'll go back in and train their teammates and having them outside Ukraine, but in Europe, I think allows for that to happen a lot faster. And I think that's where our focus is right now.

Q:  And a follow-up on a completely different topic. Can you speak to any security concerns in USPACOM, given Biden's visit in the upcoming days? Any increased coordination with U.S. allies? CNN Barbara's done some great reporting on possible tests that North Korea could do.

MR. KIRBY:  You heard Jake Sullivan talk about the fact that we were monitoring and perhaps even expecting the North Koreans to do something, whether it's a launch or a nuclear test, perhaps while the President's in theater. He also said very clearly that, you know, should that happen, we'll -- we'll take a look at our own security posture and footprint as appropriate. But I don't think we want to get ahead of ourselves right now, and certainly not going to telegraph that. Anytime that the President travels overseas, security is a concern. Quite frankly, security in the Indo Pacific is a long-standing concern. That's why we have considered China our number one pacing challenge. That's why we have talked about already, even before this trip, making sure that we -- that we had a nimble posture with respect to North Korea and their future -- past and potentially future provocations. But I wouldn't talk about it in more detail than that.

Go ahead.

Q:  The Saudi’s Defense Minister was here over the past couple of days...

MR. KIRBY:  Deputy Defense Minister.

Q:  Yes. Obviously, this trip coincided or opened up, at least with the Israeli one. And we noticed in the readout that there was a commendation that Israel's widening cooperation with regional allies. Did those two meet by any chance?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know. You'd have to talk to them. They didn't -- there -- there was no meeting of the two here at trilateral, no. But whether they're meeting on the sidelines, because they're both in D.C. at the same time, I think you'd have to talk to either one of them.

Let me go back to the phones here. Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q:  Hey, John. I wanted to go back to Sweden and Finland. Is the U.S. considering a larger U.S. naval presence in the Baltic Sea, as Sweden has requested, and what would that potentially look like?

MR. KIRBY:  Lara, I'm just not gonna get ahead of where we are right now. We're having staff talks with these -- these two countries about -- about whatever security assurances they might require and -- and what we could work with them on. And, you know, we just haven't come to conclusions on anything. And I just don't want to get ahead of where we are.

Q:  And  John, can I just a follow-up?

Q:  Thank you. My colleague asked you if the U.S. is open to training Ukrainians on U.S. soil and -- and you responded, we think training -- paraphrasing slightly, that "training is best done in Europe." But is the U.S. open to the idea in the future?

MR. KIRBY:  We already have. I mean, the first batch of the switchblade training was done with a small number of the Ukrainian soldiers; excuse me, that were already here in the States for some other programs. I mean, it's not like -- it's not like there's a prohibition on it. We've done it in the past. And I can assure you, Tom, that if at some point, we felt that that was the best way to work on improving our capabilities with a system we were providing, we would do that. But right now, given where we are, where they are in the fight, and what's being sent to them, we still believe that the most efficient way is to do it in the region nearby.

Q:  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah. OK. That's pretty -- another one?

Q:  Just wondering if -- when -- if there's an update on when we're gonna get a public release of the national defense strategy.

MR. KIRBY:  No updates for you right now. We're -- we'll -- we're still working our way through that. But when you know when we're able to have more on that in terms of what you know and unclassed release of it, we will let you know, but I don't have an update today.

OK. Thanks, everybody.