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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. All right, so I have a few items here at the top and then I will be happy to take some of your questions. 

Earlier this week the Department of Defense announced the authorization of a presidential drawdown of security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs. This authorization included more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and Howitzers that Ukraine is using to defend their country, as well as more Javelins, anti-armor systems and air surveillance radars. 
This was the Biden administration’s 32nd drawdown of equipment since August 2021, and it was valued up to $400 – about $460 million. 
And as you know, last week the Secretary wrapped up his travel to Europe, where he and the chairman hosted the ninth session of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. The secretary also participated in the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels and traveled to Germany to see the U.S.-led training of Ukrainian forces on the combined arms training. 
And finally, this week, on Friday, will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. The Department remains committed to supporting the Ukrainians through immediate and long-term security assistance and will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. 
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. Tara? 
Q: Thanks for doing this. Just wanted to play catchup on a few things from last week. On the spy balloon remnants, what remnants of the actual payload were able – was the Navy able to collect? And can you tell us anything about what you’ve discovered at this point? And I have a couple others. 
MS. SINGH: Sure. So, in terms of the balloon, as you probably saw last week, we did conclude our search operations and all of the locations that we were the lead on and including in South Carolina. In terms of what we recovered and what that looks like and when we’ll be reading that out, I would actually refer you to the FBI for right now, for further updates. I just don’t have any at this time. 
Q: But was part of the payload, the sensor package that everyone was so concerned about, was that scooped up off the ocean floor? 
MS. SINGH: The – the majority of the balloon, including the payload was recovered. 
Q: OK. And then, on the president’s trip to – inside Ukraine, there was some Pentagon element to the planning. Can you talk a little about what the military’s role was in this? 
MS. SINGH: So, the military, of course, worked closely with the president’s office, with the White House, to ensure his security and safety, as he went into Kyiv. But just for, you know, his – the security of – that we provided I’m just not going to get into any further specifics. Because it was the president’s trip I would refer you to the White House.  
Q: But did any military personnel accompany the president inside Ukraine? 
MS. SINGH: I’m just not going to get into any further details at this time. 
Hey, yes? Nice to see you. 
Q: Thank you. The president said it was the assumption of the intelligence community that the objects that were shot down were most likely a commercial or civilian balloons. Is that the current thinking of the Pentagon, the opinion of the Pentagon, in that these balloons weren’t foreign spy tech or UFOs? That’s my first question. 
MS. SINGH: They were – these were not UFOs. We are tracking them as objects and I know that there have been characteristics of one of them that appears to be like a balloon, but these were commercial, we believe. So I, you know, what the president said is certainly our assessment there. We do not believe these to be any type of foreign entity, as you mentioned, in terms of a UFO. And we, as you know, have not been able to recover all the debris from when these were shot down. So, we just don’t have much more information at this time. 
Q: OK. And my other question is about the Pentagon’s warning against service members eating poppy seeds. And we were told that the Department became aware of this last year. But that’s slightly confusing because this is an issue that’s been around for decades. I literally talked to a veteran today who had a false positive in the 1980s due to poppy seeds.  
Can you be more specific on what happened that caused the DOD to be interested in this particular issue and to contract out these new analyses of the problem? 
MS. SINGH: So, just taking a step back, at this time, yes, we are advising service members to not consume products or baked goods that contain poppy seeds because of a potential positive for a codeine drug result. In terms of other elements of when this – you mentioned someone from the 1980s, I just don’t have more information from that at this point. We are – we are trying to, again, work with our service members on just giving them all the information that we have right now. But when I have more for you, I can get back to you. 
Q: Thank you. China's top diplomat in Moscow meeting with Putin, he had said that the relationship between Beijing and Moscow was rock solid and, quote, “would withstand any test in a changing international situation.” I was curious, from the Pentagon's standpoint, the concern of this strengthening tie between Russia and China? 
MS. SINGH: Well, these are sovereign countries able to make their own sovereign decisions but we have certainly made clear, not just from here but other agencies and – and the White House, that there will certainly be consequences for China should they deepen their relationship with Russia. 
Now, we haven't seen them give lethal aid to Russia at this time for the war but they haven't also taken that off the table. And so we have been consistent from here and I believe Secretary Blinken also met with his counterpart in Germany just last week. We reinforced there that, again, there will be consequences for China should this partnership with Russia further deepen. 
Q: And then any comment on, you know, Putin saying that they were going to suspend the nuclear arms control deal as well? 
MS. SINGH: Well, we certainly think it's unfortunate. From – from the department's perspective, we think it's irresponsible. Any nuclear power has to behave in a responsible manner and we certainly take our obligations under – under the New START Treaty seriously. And as the Secretary has said before, we're going to continue to monitor this and continue to fulfill our obligations. 
Q: Hi, Sabrina. Just to follow up, what steps will you be taking in – in relation to the suspended New START Treaty? Are you going to make any changes to your nuclear posture? Is there anything concrete that you – that this will – what will this mean in a concrete manner, his announcement? 
MS. SINGH: Well, nothing – no changes in terms of our – our posture. Nothing is changing in terms of the obligations that we are set to meet. Again, we are – and the Secretary believes that a – a responsible nuclear power needs to continue to work with other countries around the world that have these nuclear capabilities. And so Russia's withdrawal from the New START Treaty is certainly unfortunate and irresponsible. 
Q: And what is your reaction to Russia and China having naval exercises with South Africa that started today? 
MS. SINGH: Yeah, we've seen – again, these are sovereign nations that engage in exercises with other partners and – and countries all around the world. We certainly have our own engagements with other countries, and I'll just leave it at that. 
Q: But are you disappointed in South Africa for hosting them? 
MS. SINGH: I'll just leave it at that. 
Q: Thank you so much. I want to follow up on China and the – Russia's relationship. So Secretary of State Blinken said he's worried about China is considering providing lethal support to Russia. So does the Pentagon have the same assessment? And could you give us some evidence of this assessment? 
MS. SINGH: We haven't seen right now the – we haven't seen China provide lethal aid right now at this time. They haven't taken it off the table. As I mentioned before, we've warned China about any implications and consequences should they provide materiel support to Russia.  
And I think China as the Secretary and Secretary Blinken, I think, also reiterated in his travels, China would seriously risk miscalculating its continued support for Russia. This is a war that Russia, you know, launched against Ukraine. We're coming to the one year anniversary just at the end of this week and it would certainly be a miscalculation of China to – to provide lethal aid to Russia. 
Q: Two different questions. An online publication called Dragon Lady Today, I believe, published a photo of a U-2 flying above a – a balloon. Can you confirm that the photo's authentic? And will you be releasing it? 
And then I'll ask the second question in a second. 
MS. SINGH: I – yes, I saw that report. I can confirm the – the – the photo's authenticity and we are planning to release it, and hopefully you'll be getting something in your inbox soon. 
Q: And then a second question – thank you. SOCOM began an investigation into potential issues with its cloud servers that may have exposed information. What changes have been made to address the issue? And what other commands potentially have this same vulnerability? 
MS. SINGH: So I've seen the reports that a – you're referring to. As a matter of practice and for operational security, we just don't comment on the status of our networks and systems. So again, I just – I – I won't go much further than that, other – other than to say that we are going to assess these open source reports and we'll continue to monitor. And if I have a further update – when I do, I'm happy to provide it. 
Q: Can you say whether changes were made to – to address the vulnerability? Because SOCOM acknowledged there was an issue. 
MS. SINGH: I – I – again, I'm – seen the – I've – I've seen the reports. Again, it's early right now in its assessment. I just have nothing for you at this time. 
Sure, right in the back? Oh, Mike? Sure. And then I'll come to you. Or vice versa. OK. 
Q: Hi. Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense. There seems to be a gap between sort of low tech systems, like the balloons and these objects, and the very exquisite, very expensive, very manned systems that we're using to take them down.  
Is the Pentagon wrestling with this gap at all? Is there a different way to get at this security problem? Do we always have to fire a Sidewinder? Do we have to look with the U-2? It seems like there's a big space in between a balloon and what we send to go look at it. 
MS. SINGH: Well, I think that, again, this was the balloon – a Chinese spy balloon that we didn't know its capabilities, we didn't exactly know what could happen if we – and did shoot it down. So it was the assessment of the NORTHCOM Commander, the recommendation of the Secretary and the Chairman to take it down with a Sidewinder missile. 
Q: Are there any discussions about how to calibrate this response in the future, about if it's a balloon, if it's an object that could be a commercial object? 
MS. SINGH: Well, you saw, I think, just last week the White House announced a – an interagency task force that is going to be pulling together to – to look at different (incidents ?) and how to better assess what actions should be taken. 
I don't have more at this time to read out from that, that task force was just announced, but when we do – I mean, that's what we're trying to do for the future, we're trying to improve not only how we respond to certain (incidents ?) but to ensure that there are no – there's no civilian casualties or damage or anything like that. 
Q: And a quick – as a – (follow-up ?) – is there a chance we might see a cost for what this was, the cost of flight hours, the cost of the Sidewinders, the – the cost of what it took to try to mitigate this problem? 
MS. SINGH: I believe we have the cost of some of those aspects and I'd be happy to follow up with you on that. 
Q: That'd be great. Thank you. 
MS. SINGH: Yeah, no problem. Mike? 
Q: Hello. Does – a poppy seed question. Does the concerns about poppy seed also apply to the dreaded lemon poppy seed poundcake in the MRE? And if not, why not? 
MS. SINGH: Is that – is that your favorite snack? OK. Then, I – I am sad to say it probably does. We are advising service members, when it comes to consuming baked goods such as the lemon poppy seed cake that you just mentioned, that there are – there is a potential positive codeine test. 
Q: (inaudible) … is that the Pentagon is providing (troops ?)? 
MS. SINGH: We are certainly advising service members that they could – we are advising them to not consume those products if they are scheduled for a drug test, as they could potentially test positive for codeine Yeah. 
Q: Hey, thanks very much.  
MS. SINGH: Yes.  
Q: What was the last official contact between (inaudible)...  
MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, can you just speak up a little bit?  
Q: Sure. What was the last official contact between China and the Pentagon and at what level?  
MS. SINGH: I believe -- you know, I'd have to -- I'd have to take that question -- I don't remember off the top of my head when the last official contact was, so I'll get back to you on that. Yes.  
Yes, right over here.  
Q: (inaudible) Sabrina, what kind of consequences could China face if they are provide lethal aid to Russia? And (inaudible) that conflict (there ?)?  
MS. SINGH: So I'm not going to get into hypothetical questions of if China does something, then what those consequences are. This administration has been clear both publicly and privately to the PRC about consequences that they could face, but I'm just not going to broadcast that from here.  
The effect of any consequences? Well, again, that's just getting into a hypothetical that I'm not going to engage on from here. We just, again, have been very clear with our Chinese counterparts that providing any type of lethal aid to Russia, continuing to support Russia while this war in Ukraine is ongoing, is just not something that we support. It's certainly not something that the international community supports when you have the broad array of over 50 countries at the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group supporting Ukraine.  
So again, I'm not going to forecast anything from here, and not going to engage in hypotheticals.  
Yes, right here in the front. And I can come back to you. Oh?  
MS. SINGH: And then we're going to go to the gentleman right behind you, sorry (inaudible). Yes.  
Q: Thanks. Liam Cosgrove with Epoch Times here.  
MS. SINGH: Hi.  
Q: Two questions, I'll just ask the first. Kind of what you mentioned about China and Russia have been meeting and talking about deepening their ties.  
MS. SINGH: Yes.  
Q: Are you concerned at all that us isolating Russia in response to their invasion of Ukraine is pushing them into the arms of China and at the very minimum, shouldn't we be having a dialog with Putin similar to JFK did with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis?  
MS. SINGH: So in terms of -- let me take the first part of question. In terms of isolation, Russia's done this to themselves. This is Putin's war, Putin chose to go to war with Ukraine, their neighbor, and a certainly unjust, unprovoked war. So in terms of isolation, they've done that to themselves.  
I think you used -- I can't remember how you characterized it, but being (forced ?)...  
Q: (inaudible) should be talking with them. Even -- they may have isolated themselves (inaudible)  
MS. SINGH: We currently maintain the lines of communication. As you just saw, the White House reached out to Russia to alert them about the president's visit to Kyiv. We maintain open lines of communications. The ICBM test that was just launched over the weekend by Russia, we were notified through the New START Treaty process that they were going to test the ICBM.  
So it's not that we've closed off communication. We welcome communication with Russia.  
Q: Well (but ?) they have asked to speak with Biden without Ukraine's presence, and I know we want to involve Ukraine, but couldn't we go to that meeting and speak on Ukraine's behalf, maybe without them being there? Just to ease the tensions in some way.  
MS. SINGH: No. There's nothing -- as the president has said, nothing -- there's nothing that's going to happen with Ukraine without Ukraine. We're not going to have singular conversations with Russia about the war in Ukraine. It is Ukraine who is the most impacted, it is Ukraine's civilians who are being killed on the battlefield and in cities. Ukraine has every right to be part of any conversation, whether it's with us and (Russia ?), but we would not have a conversation about the war without Ukraine.  
Q: (inaudible) help their citizens, us doing this, wouldn't that be something to entertain?  
MS. SINGH: Well how -- we don't know that it'd help their citizens. Again, I'm not going to engage in a hypothetical question.  
Q: (inaudible) peace for their citizens.  
MS. SINGH: Yes. I'm -- again, I -- as the president has said, as the secretary has said before, there's nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. And I'll leave it at that.  
And now to the gentleman right behind you, if you don't mind passing him the mike.  
Q: Sure.  
MS. SINGH: Thank you.  
Q: Thank you. The recent presidential drawdown for...  
MS. SINGH: Yes, thank you.  
Q: The recent presidential drawdown for Ukraine included secure tactical communication systems. Are you able to provide any more details about what those include? Are these primarily radios or other systems?  
And are they intended to provide an alternative to Starlink for the Ukrainians?  
MS. SINGH: Again, Starlink is still operating above Ukraine, and we've provided satcom systems before. I'm not going to get into more specifics on that, I'll just leave it at that.  
Q: And are these systems that the U.S. hasn't provided before -- like these specific systems, or are these just more of the same equipment that DOD has provided in the past?  
MS. SINGH: I can take that question and get back to you. (Jennifer ?)? Oh, I'm sorry, (inaudible).  
Q: Just a quick follow-up, would you consider the advance semiconductor chips that Russia needs for its weapons in Ukraine to be lethal aid if China were to provide those chips to Russia?  
MS. SINGH: I don't want to get into characterizing what the lethal aid -- what that could look like, because those chips can be used for different things. So I'm just going to leave it at lethal aid that if China were to provide that to Russia, it would -- China would certainly face consequences.  
Great, (Jim ?)?  
Q: After the -- after the balloon, the secretary tried to get in touch with his Chinese counterpart...  
MS. SINGH: Yes.  
Q: ...and they didn't pick up. Has he tried since then? Is he planning to do it any time in the near future?  
MS. SINGH: Not that I'm aware of. We welcome open lines of communication, we will continue to -- again, as you've mentioned, the secretary did reach out to his counterpart, but we did not hear -- we did not hear anything back. But we welcome open lines of communication.  
Yes, the gentleman in the middle?  
Q: Thank you. Alex Rouhandeh with Newsweek. A Pentagon spokesperson told USA Today that the M1 Abrams tanks will take several months to arrive in Ukraine. By what specific date could those be expected to appear on the battlefield?  
MS. SINGH: I don't have a specific date. Again, these are -- the Abrams were announced through our USAI security assistance, so that is something that's going to take time and it's going to go out for contracting, so I just don't have a specific date for you at this time.  
Q: Do you have a rough month estimate?  
MS. SINGH: I don't. I don't.  
Q: Thanks.  
MS. SINGH: Yes, (Travis ?)? And I'll come back.  
Q: Thanks. I just had another question about the three objects.  
MS. SINGH: Sure.  
Q: We've heard about some of the assets and units that were involved in trying to recover those.  
MS. SINGH: Yes.  
Q: We've heard about the FBI. I'm wondering about AARO, the Pentagon's UAP office.  
MS. SINGH: Yes.  
Q: Can you say and if it was involved in any of these efforts to recover those objects? It was my understanding in the legislation there was supposed to be in -- a team that would go out to sites and do that type of work.  
MS. SINGH: In terms of -- in terms of the teams that went out to sites, in terms of the recovery, I mean, each one was a bit different, and each I think location had a different lead. So, I would just -- I would have to take that and get back to you. I just -- I don't know off the top of my head. Yes.  
Yes, I'll take one more.  
Q: Thanks so much (inaudible) for Japanese (inaudible) TV. On North Korea, they launches the -- their ICBM last week and the -- multiple missiles also, and also the missile believed to be a (inaudible) ICBM was also observed at the military parade this month. 
MS. SINGH: Right. 
Q: So what is current view of this assessment of the progress of North Korea's ICBM development? 
MS. SINGH: Well, I'd let the North Koreans speak for their own progress on how they think their program is going. We continue to see these efforts as destabilizing, as unhelpful to the region, which you are probably tracking. But just recently we led our own on trilateral defense exercise with RoK and Japan, which I think further shows our commitment to the region and to our partners and allies. But when it comes to DPRK's continued ballistic missile tests, these are -- these are not -- just not helpful in -- for the region and continue to be destabilizing.  
Oh yes, right here.  
Q: Thank you. Regarding North Korea. 
MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.  
Q: Have the U.S. and South Korea conducted (inaudible) exercise at the Pentagon today to simulate the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea? If so, could you give us some details on who participated and what they did? And also the comments on the exercise. Thank you.  
MS. SINGH: Yes, so, as you mentioned, the United States and the Republic of Korea conducted the eighth RoK Deterrent -- U.S.-RoK Deterrent Strategy Tabletop Exercise today. I don't have a ton of more information for you right now. But we will have more details to share this evening.  
Q: (inaudible) 
MS. SINGH: I don't have more details right now but we will have something for you this evening. And when we get that I would be happy to share it with you.  
Q: (inaudible) 
MS. SINGH: Sure. I'll take -- I'll take two more questions and then we've got to wrap.  
Q: (inaudible) Thanks. Just so one more on -- on Russia. Can you talk about just on the -- on Russia's ties -- military ties with Iran? When -- I don't know if you have it off the top of your head, but when was the last time DoD saw any type of Iranian weapons shipped or received by -- by the Russians? And have you all seen any -- or are there any updates on potential fighter jets being provided, the other way around, from -- from the Russians or the Iranians? Thank you. 
MS. SINGH: Sorry, can you repeat the last part of your question? Any fighter jets from who?  
Q: From -- from the Russians to the Iranians.  
MS. SINGH: Oh, OK. In terms of like date and delivery of supplies from Iran to Russia, I just don't -- I -- I don't have specific dates for you on that. We know that Iran has been supplying Russia with -- whether it's drones or other capabilities in this war. And, you know, that relationship continues to bear out on the battlefield. But I don't have anything more on -- on fighter jets. I would refer you to Russia for that.  
Yeah, OK, one last question over here. Or maybe you'll have five.  
Q: Thank you. Just you mentioned that China would face consequences if they do provide lethal aid. 
MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.  
Q: Would you be willing to go into what those consequences might look like?  
MS. SINGH: No, I mean, again, I don't want to get ahead of -- and forecast any of those consequences. We have been very clear, both publicly and privately. I think you saw Secretary Blinken was just on travel and met with his PRC counterpart in Munich, and expressed our disappointment if the -- if -- if the PRC did provide lethal aid to Russia. And, you know, I'm just not going to get ahead of any of what those consequences might look like.  
Q: Are there any strategies to -- to bring China over to our side, any incentives were offered in the -- you know, to come away from Russia towards us?  
MS. SINGH: Again, we've been very clear about our -- our relationship. And we welcome open lines of communication. I know Jim had asked me about that earlier. I think the incentive here is to be on the side of many partners and allies of the United States who are supporting Ukraine. I mean, we're -- I think you're forgetting here that this is a sovereign country that invaded another sovereign country, an unprovoked war that was started by Russia. And so it is -- I think, looking at it from this perspective, it is one side that needs the support and help of the world. And that's why we are standing firm at the Ukrainians.  
Great, I think I'm going to -- do you have something else?  
Q: Well, I would just say that, you know, the Cuban Missile Crisis example, that was very hostile.  
MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.  
Q: We were very hostile towards Russia during that time. They had military bases in Cuba. But what we did was we opened a dialogue. We offered to take our military bases out of Turkey. And then it -- it worked. It -- it de-escalated the crisis. So you have to -- you only make peace with your enemies. You don't -- that's who you have to be talking with is -- or... 
MS. SINGH: Well, let me just make this very clear. We're not at war with Russia. We're not fighting with Russia. We are supporting the Ukrainians in their war that Russia started. So let's just be clear about that. I think it's important to remember that, again, a neighbor of Russia was invaded by -- by Russia. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. We have been -- and this administration has been committed to standing with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And that's what we're going to continue to do.  
Now I said earlier, when you asked me this same question, that we're not shutting down any lines of communications with Russia. We -- we welcome communication and we -- we would maintain the -- we continue to maintain those lines. But, again, nothing is going to happen with Ukraine without Ukraine at the table as well. And so I just would reiterate that the United States stands firm with Ukraine. And, again, over 50 partners and allies also supporting Ukraine in this war.  
All right. Thanks. And I'll leave it at that.