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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few things at the top and then I'll get right to your questions.

So as many of you are aware, today is the 75th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Secretary Austin released a statement earlier today on this notable milestone, which is available on the DOD website.

Formed in the wake of World War II, NATO promotes security in the North Atlantic area, safeguards freedom and democracy, and provides collective defense for the alliance.  Starting with an original group of 12 countries to the most recent accession of Sweden as the 32nd member, NATO is stronger and more united than ever.

As we look forward to hosting NATO's historic 75th anniversary summit here in Washington this July, we will continue to strengthen our collective defense and deterrence through the development of advanced systems across all domains, combined training and common purpose to defend each other against all emerging threats today and in the future.

To quote Secretary Austin's statement, quote, "America's network of allies and partners built and sustained by successive generations of wise and bipartisan post-war American leadership remains a core strategic strength that no rival can match and that no foe should doubt.  Today, we salute NATO's achievements and we pledge to build upon them," end quote.

Today also marks the official start of Defender '24, the largest U.S. Army exercise in Europe, as ships depart the United States carrying equipment for the event.  Scheduled to occur through May 31st, Defender '24 will - will involve more than 40,000 service members from over 20 allied and partner nations, demonstrating the strong defensive relationships that are the foundation of European peace.

The exercise, linked to NATO's Steadfast Defender, consists of three sub exercises - Saber Strike, Immediate Response, and Swift Response.  Defender '24 focuses on strategic deployment, interoperability and readiness, while seeking to deter potential adversaries and strengthen the NATO alliance.  For questions about the exercise, I'd refer you to U.S. European Command Public Affairs.

Switching gears, Secretary Austin spoke by phone yesterday with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.  The two leaders continued their regular dialogue on U.S. and Israeli efforts to ensure the defeat of Hamas and secure the release of all hostages.

As was highlighted in our readout last night, Secretary Austin expressed his outrage at the Israeli strike Tuesday on a World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid convoy that killed seven aid workers, including an American citizen.

Secretary Austin stressed the need to immediately take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza after repeated coordination failures with foreign aid groups.  Secretary Austin also urged Minister Gallant to conduct a swift and transparent investigation into this incident, to share their conclusions publicly, and to hold those responsible to account.

Additionally, Secretary Austin again raised the need for a rapid increase of aid coming through all crossings in the coming days, particularly to communities in northern Gaza that are at risk of famine.  During the call, the Secretary also reiterated U.S. support for Israel's defense against a range of regional threats.  A full readout is available on

And to close out, sharing some good news, this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached a milestone in Maui, where they cleared hazardous debris from the 500th residential property since the devastating wildfires.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working hand-in-hand with FEMA, EPA, the state of Hawaii, and others to ensure these sites are safe for the people of Hawaii.  For more information, please contact U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.  We'll go to Associated Press first on the phone. Got, Lita?

Q:  Hi, Pat.  Thank you very much.  A couple of questions on the call he had with Gallant.  Can you say whether or not the Secretary is involved in any ongoing U.S. assessment to determine if Israel has made any of these tangible changes that the White House talked about a short time ago?

Can you say whether the Secretary was one of the people dialed in with the President's call?  The White House mentioned Secretary Blinken and - and others were.  Was Secretary Austin also listening in on that call?

And finally, did the Secretary mention at all to Minister Gallant anything about the U.S. limiting or conditioning military sales on any of these improvements?  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Anything else, Lita?

GEN. RYDER:  I think those are all of the questions for the day.

All right, so just taking it - taking it from the top, you know, in terms of the - the concrete steps that have been highlighted and that the White House highlighted, you know, Secretary Austin of course maintains a professional relationship with Minister Gallant.  They communicate frequently, as you know.  And so I expect that to be a - a topic of discussion going forward.

In terms of today's call with the Prime Minister, to my knowledge, the Secretary was not in on that call or listening in on that call.

And then as far as your - your last question, you know, what I've provided in the readout is what was discussed.  And again, the Secretary reiterated U.S. support for helping Israel defend itself from a range of regional threats.  So I'd just leave it there.

Let me come back into the room here.  Jennifer?

Q:  Pat, are you re-thinking the employment of the so-called JLOTS, the seaborne delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, in the wake of the World Central Kitchen disaster?

GEN. RYDER:  No.  The JLOTS continues to be en route.  We expect to achieve full operations capability by the end of the month, early May - as - as we talked about, approximately 60 days - although of course, we are working to - to move as quickly as we can on that front.

And so once operational, again, the capability that that will provide is the ability to send upwards of two million meals per day into Gaza.  And so planning for that continues.  We're on - on track, in terms of the timeline, and we continue to work closely with partners in the region.

As you've heard others say, Israel has committed to providing security on the shore for that effort.  When it comes to the receiving and then onward distribution of that aid, we're working with USAID and others to finalize those details.  I don't have anything to provide to you now.

Q:  So many groups now saying they won't distribute in Gaza, they're pulling out.  The UAE has just frozen relations.  How do you plan to distribute aid and not have either chaos or a security situation?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, again, I mean, the - the situation there - and of course, this strike certainly doesn't make that job easier - but that has not deterred us from continuing to work with groups and NGOs to - to come up with solutions.  That's what we've been tasked to do and we'll continue to do that.

Q:  What's the Pentagon's assessment of Israel's plan to enter Rafah?

GEN. RYDER:  To my knowledge, we haven't seen a detailed plan at this point.  As has been mentioned, we've been briefed on concepts.  As you know, there was a - a meeting at the - the White House, a virtual meeting, earlier this week to continue having that conversation.

And so again, I'd refer you to Israel in terms of their plan, but we continue to highlight the fact that any operation needs to incorporate civilian safety and ensuring that, you know, humanitarian assistance can get in.

Q:  But essentially no plan has been shared with you?  There's no plan at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  To my knowledge, we've not received a detailed plan.

Q:  After his call with President - the - Prime Minister Netanyahu, the President in the statement said, you know, the U.S. will change his policy, if Israel doesn’t make some changes in — in sort of Gaza war effort, given the Europe planning organization, and you started planning and looking at what aid you would can — condition if those sorts of benchmarks aren't met by President Biden.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks, (inaudible). At this point, I'm just not going to get into hypotheticals.

Q:  And secondly, in the call yesterday, did the Secretary get a better understanding of how the Israelis could unintentionally try — strike three vehicles over one and a half kilometer?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, again, obviously, as we highlighted in the readout, the strike did come up.  The Israelis have initiated an investigation.  I think they've spoken, at least initially on some of the preliminary findings.  But of course, we don't want to get ahead of that investigation.  So, we need to wait and see what comes out of that.

Q:  Last one.  Why does the Secretary feel that Minister Gallant will now listen to him?  I think the last time this book, the Israelis been killed aid workers a week later.  So why now?  Why would he listen now?

GEN. RYDER:  Look again, the Secretary and the Minister have had an ongoing dialogue.  They — the Secretary respects Minister Gallant, you know, they have obviously communicated very closely on the situation.  And Secretary Austin has very clearly communicated our position on what needs to be done in terms of safeguarding civilians.  And so, expect those conversations to continue to go on.

Let me go to Oren.

Q:  Pat, we're now roughly the six month point of the war.  Can you say looking back, having spoken repeatedly about the need to protect civilians, that you have seen Israel take some sort of concrete steps that has improved their protection of civilian airstrikes?  Because what we see doesn't look like it?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Well, I mean, clearly not enough, has been done, which is, again, what I've highlighted in the readout and was part of the conversation that the Secretary had with Minister Gallant.  That conversation is happening at multiple echelons within the U.S. government.

I mean, to answer your question, in certain areas, we have seen them take action, but clearly not enough.  And so again, we're going to continue to set that expectation, and we're going to continue to have those conversations.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Yes.  (Inaudible) for Italian News Journal.  I have two questions.  One is about Gaza and the other one about Ukraine.  The first question is, what are the steps suggested from the Secretary to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, looking to the escalation between Israel and Iran was very dangerous at this time.  So, what are the steps suggested toward peace?

And then the second question, it would be about Ukraine and Russia, the situation in Ukraine, from the European perspective, although there are a lot of aids coming in, it seems stalling.  And so again, what the Pentagon suggest, to — to move the situation and — and find the solution toward peace? Because Europe is afraid of that war.

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  Well, when it comes to the situation in Gaza, and you know, broader escalation throughout the Middle East, the Department of Defense continues to remain focused on four primary areas.  Number one is the protection of U.S. citizens and service members throughout the region.  Number two is working with Israel and others in the region to the — for the release of hostages that are being held by Hamas.  And then the other two objectives are ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from future terrorist attacks and broader regional threats.  And then finally preventing a broader regional escalation.

And so that has included, you know, not just on the Department of Defense side, but across the U.S. government, both diplomatic efforts, but then also by us for having forces in the region that are able to support regional deterrence, as well as provide us options should we need to respond.

Again, at the end of the day, we recognize Israel's engaged in a — in a — in a very difficult conflict with Hamas in Gaza.  But, you know, we're going to do everything we can to again, prevent this from spreading further.

Q:  Prime Minister Netanyahu is not really listening, it looks like to what the President is suggesting.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I can't speak for the Prime Minister.  And I'm sorry, your second question.

Q:  Briefly, can say something about the situation in Ukraine, the stalling of the war.  What is the Pentagon is suggesting to move forward?  And maybe finding some sort of sort of solution?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, well, I mean, you know, our focus is on supporting Ukraine and its ability to defend itself and take back sovereign territory.  And so that will continue to be our focus.

And we go to Missy.

Q:  Just going back to that Gallant call.  Did Secretary Austin convey the same message that Biden conveyed to Netanyahu that the U.S. policy of Gaza would depend on these particular things?


Q:  OK.  And, because the — the assistance Israel's mostly military, I want to ask you the question sort of that, that John Kirby was asked today, which is that, you know, if they're saying that, suggesting that the U.S. could change his policy, vis-a-vis Gaza, if Israel doesn't take the specified steps, it suggests that the U.S. could curtail or suspend military aid.  Do you — is that an accurate understanding of what that means?

GEN. RYDER:  Well again, like I — I know that Mr. Kirby spoke to this, I'm not going to get ahead of the — the White House on this or preview it.  So, I think, you know, all that the President's words the — the White House's word stand on their own.  Thanks.


Q:  Thank you, General. I believe when the Secretary was at the Hill, he mentioned another back then 25,000 civilian deaths in Gaza.  And he said majority, majority of whom were women and children.  And yesterday on the call for the first time, we read that he expressed outrage at the death of aid workers.  Why wasn't the Secretary outrage before yesterday?

GEN. RYDER:  The Secretary has been clear all along, that this is a tragic situation.  None of us want to see innocent civilians killed in this conflict.  That is a conversation that he has had with Mr. Gallant from the very beginning of this conflict.  So, to — to make the accusation that somehow one set of people killed is unacceptable versus the other.  That's just an inaccurate characterization.

Q:  I didn't make that accusation, you made it.

GEN. RYDER:  No, you — you.  You made you made it.

Q:  I would have said it.  You know, I'm very (inaudible).


Q:  But thanks for making (inaudible).  The second question.  We've been asking the same question over and over again and receive the same answer.

GEN. RYDER:  I know.

That there are no conditions on USA to Israel.  At the end of the day, this is an Israel operation.  Suddenly, today, we hear a different tone, that there is going to be conditions if Israel doesn't do it, this and this, and this.  Would such a warning coming before today would have saved innocent lives in Gaza, including an American aid worker?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but thanks.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Thanks, General.  At the White House briefing, John Kirby said that in the past couple of months, the U.S. hasn't provided any emergency military aid to Israel.  Is that because Israel hasn't requested any aid along those lines?  Or has the U.S. been turning down those requests?

GEN. RYDER:  No, look, I mean, as you know, we've got a long-standing security relationship with Israel.  And as he also highlighted, foreign military sales, foreign military financing.  Many of those requests are years in the making.  And so, it's a combination of the two.

But as we've highlighted shortly after October 7 very shortly, we were able to rush some additional security assistance to help meet Israel's immediate needs.

Q: No additional assistance has been rushed in that way since the (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: And we continue to support Israel with the capabilities that they've purchased as well as requested, but I don't have anything specific to read out to you. We go to Janne.

Q: Thank you, General. Two questions. Experts said North Korea's recent launch of a solid fuel ballistic missile could pose a threat to the U.S. air stationed in Guam. What is your comment on this, or how did you assess this report ?

GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, look, we're aware, of course, of the testing. We're consulting closely with our allies in the region. But I'll just leave it at that.

Q: And the second one.


Q: And President — Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a meeting — meeting in next month.
And regarding what concern do we have about the military cooperation between China and Russia, as well as movement in military cooperation between North Korea, China, and Russia?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, look, our focus in the region is on working with allies and partners to ensure regional security and stability. And that will continue to remain our focus. Each of the nations that you highlighted are sovereign nations. And they're going to make decisions about who they cooperate with and who they don't. Where it becomes a problem is when there — we start to see malign activity in terms of providing Russia, for example, with capabilities that they're then in turn using to attack Ukraine. So again, we'll continue to monitor that closely.

All right. Let me go to the phones here real quick. Let me go to Patty, Task & Purpose.

Q: Hi, Pat. So there was reporting from an Israel based magazine, 972, about the IDF's Lavender System, which found that they were systematically targeting Individuals while they were in their homes at night, while their families were present rather than military activity. I understand that you won't — that you can't comment on IDF policy, but I'm wondering if you can just talk about does the U.S. support using AI for targeting?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So I've seen those press reports, Patty. I don't have anything as you highlight. I'd refer you back to the Israelis to talk about any capabilities they may or may not have. Laura.

Q: The JLOTS capabilities, when is that expected to arrive in Gaza? And do you have a committed partner yet that will distribute aid from this pier when it's built?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I think I answered that earlier. But right now, again, we are expecting JLOTS to be online by the end of the month, early May on schedule. Again, we continue to work closely with USAID and other partners NGOs to discuss the aid delivery and distribution. And so as we have more information to provide on that front, we will.

Q: Are you — is — are you going to continue setting up the pier once they arrive if they don't — you don't have a committed partner in terms of security for the U.S. Personnel setting up the pier and in terms of protection?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, as I highlighted, Lauren, sorry, maybe I wasn't clear. Israel has committed to providing security on shore. So we're continuing to work with them on the details of that. And again, we're not changing the mission. We've been tasked to provide a temporary pier. Everything is on track on schedule at this point. And so again, as more details come in, we'll be sure to give you an update.

Q: So, just to be clear, even if you don't have anybody that's going to distribute the aid —

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.

Q: Well, I mean, that's not a hypothetical —

GEN. RYDER: Courtney?

Q: — that's true?

GEN. RYDER: No, you're saying if you don't, we're not there yet. The pier is not stood up yet. And they haven't arrived in theater yet. And we're continuing to work through those things. So we'll keep you updated. Courtney.

Q: Just one clarification on that. So there's — Yes, the Israelis have agreed to do security on the shore. Are they doing security for the distribution though as well? Is that —

GEN. RYDER: Again, we're working through all the details. Clearly, Israel will be an important partner when it comes to security for all the obvious reasons in Gaza. I'm not going to get into the specifics, you know? Again, we're working through a lot of those details. But as this comes online, we'll have much more to say.

Q: Is that part of the conversation last night, those kinds of specifics with — or yesterday afternoon with the Secretary and his Israeli counterpart?

GEN. RYDER: They did discuss maritime delivery of aid, yes.

Q: The IDF for providing security throughout the whole process?

GEN. RYDER: Well, providing security, yup. So, okay. Luis?

Q: Going back to one of your earlier answers, I think to Jen's question about distribution, distributing the aid coming through the Maritime Corridor, you said that this strike certainly doesn't make that job easier. Can you provide some context as to what you're talking about there and how it makes it more difficult for Pentagon?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Well, I mean, a couple of things, Luis. So I mean, first of all, you know, the — I was reading an article earlier today that highlighted the fact that it's — that, you know, this is a dangerous place. It's a combat zone. And so, you know, certainly, the aid groups that are there operating in that environment under extremely difficult circumstances.

And so the fact that you are delivering aid within a combat zone, the fact that you saw what we saw earlier this week in terms of the Israeli strike, despite the fact that by all accounts, the World Central Kitchen had coordinated with the Israelis to be able to access that area, those kinds of things need to be flushed out and ironed out to ensure that any aid distribution can safely do that.

So I know that USAID and others are working closely on that issue. And I'll just leave it there. Thanks. Let me go back to Jennifer.

Q: Just a quick follow up on the Lavender System. Is there any indication that the Lavender System or any AI-generated targets was responsible for this World Central Kitchen attack?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I can't get ahead of an Israeli investigation. I know they're looking into this, so I'd have to refer you to them.

Q: And why wasn't Secretary Austin on the call with the Prime Minister, given the military component of this current operation and discussion?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Look, I don't think that that's, again, unusual. I mean, we do a series of phone calls — senior leaders do series of phone calls all the time depending on the topic to be discussed based on schedules. So that in and of itself is not unusual.

GEN. RYDER: Ashley.

Q: Just a follow up questions since it's evolving situation right now and things are rapidly changing. Is the U.S. prepared to do its own investigation into the strike on the aid workers?

GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge.

Q: And then also, do you have a total you can provide us of military aid provided to Israel since October 7?

GEN. RYDER: We don't — I don't have anything in front of me here today actually. Thank you. Ma'am?

Q: Valerie Shelbourne with (inaudible) News. Has there been any impact to U.S. operations with the Danish frigate that had the faulty missile launcher that's blocking entrance to the Baltic shipping lanes?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything on that. Thanks. Let me get a couple other folks that haven't called on here. Mike?

Q: Yes. Thanks, Pat. In August 21, 2021, the U.S. launched a drone strike that killed seven children and three adults for several days. People in this building, including your predecessor and the former chairman, insisted it was a righteous nation. Nobody was punished for it. Nobody lost their job over it. I mean, is it really — is the U.S. really in a position to be outraged about what happened in Israel since it seems to almost mirror what happened in the — what the U.S did in Afghanistan?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, Mike, I mean, I - I appreciate the question but, you know, I - I - I'm not going to be able to talk about the past.  All I can talk about today is the present.  And the fact is, you know, seven civilians who were delivering food to people who are in extreme need were killed in an airstrike.  So it's a tragic situation, I think we can all agree.  And so I'll just leave it there.


Q:  Thank you, General.  Alan Fisher from Al Jazeera English.  Can you remember yourself any time that the Secretary has expressed publicly his outrage at the death of aid workers in Gaza, including the more than 160 that died before the attack on World Central Kitchen?  And if you can't, can you point me in the direction of times where he expressed publicly his outrage at the death of aid workers before that incident?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, look, this Secretary clearly feels this is an important issue.  He's addressed the situation - the - the civilian and humanitarian situation in Gaza on multiple occasions.  Nearly every single time he speaks to Minister Gallant, this is a topic of discussion, and it will continue to be an important topic.

Let me go to the phone here.  Konstantin?

Q:  Can you remember any time he expressed his public outrage?  Because it seems to me this is the first time he's done that, when an American has died and there's a lot of publicity globally about what's happened to World Central Kitchen.

GEN. RYDER:  Look, again, the Secretary feels it's an important issue.  I - I appreciate the opportunity to, you know, communicate your sentiment in that way, but I can assure you that this is an important topic for the Secretary.

Let me go to Konstantin,

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  On the - on the JLOTS plans, I know you said that plans are still ongoing, that you guys are committed to putting the system in place, but has the World Food Kitchen (sic) strike altered those plans or caused you guys to think about any aspect of these plans differently?  And sort of related to that I suppose, can you speak as to whether those plans involve any U.S. Navy war ships being present in the area?  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Konstantin.  You know, so the - the short answer is we continue to plan apace and continue to, as I mentioned, work towards implementation of JLOTS on schedule.  Certainly, like any military operation, you're going to take factors in the operating environment into consideration, to include the things that I mentioned earlier as far as the security situation and ensuring that security is taken into consideration as it relates to aid distribution.  And so that will be taken into account.

As far as any additional assets, like Navy ships, I don't have anything to announce right now, but again, you know, we're always going to put the safety and security of our forces as a top priority in any of these operations.  Thanks.


Q:  ... just in follow-up, you said that the Israel - the Israelis have committed to providing security for the pier.  Why would you trust the IDF to protect the U.S. personnel setting up the pier when they struck the food assistance convoy after they had already cleared their route with the IDF?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, again, I know Israel's investigating, in terms of the - the strike on World Central Kitchen, and we trust that Israel will provide the security that we need on the shore.

Let me go to Jared.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  Nearly a month ago, a group of UN experts reported, quote, "over 14 recorded incidents of Israeli forces shooting, shelling, and targeting groups gathered to receive urgently needed supplies from trucks or airdrops between mid-January and the end of February of 2024."  The quote goes on - "Israel had also opened fire - has also opened fire on humanitarian aid convoys on several occasions despite the fact that the convoys share their coordinates - coordinates with Israel."  That signal was issued on March 5th.

Does the department see the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy as part of a pattern?  And have department officials told their Israeli counterparts to stop the IDF from firing on aid convoys or civilians gathered to receive aid since ...

GEN. RYDER:  Well, look, Jared, I think I addressed that, you know, in the - in the top there, where Secretary Austin again highlighted to Minister Gallant the need to take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians after repeated coordination failures with foreign aid groups.

And so I think our expectation is that yes, they will obviously need to do much better when it comes to ensuring that that aid is not only delivered more frequently into Gaza but done so in a way that's safe and secure for those who are receiving that aid.

Q:  So the subject of Israeli forces open firing on civilians gathered to receive aid, this has been a subject of discussion in the past - in past weeks and months ...

GEN. RYDER:  I think the - the topic of taking civilian safety into account when conducting operations has been a topic almost since the beginning of this conflict.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you.  I have one on Ukraine and one on the Pacific.  What is the Pentagon saying about the idea voiced by Jens Stoltenberg about moving the Ukraine Defense Contact Group under NATO leadership, given the concerns about the lack of support of the United States?

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't have any announcements to make regarding a shift in the overall, you know, management of the UDCG.  As - as you know, Secretary Austin continues to convene this international forum.  We just held our most recent session at Ramstein last month.

Of course, you know, there's always conversations that are going on to look at - at how we can work with allies and partners to ensure that support for Ukraine is done in a systemic, sustainable, deliberate way.  That's why you see things like the capability coalitions that have been stood up, the national armaments directors' meetings.

So going forward, we'll continue to work with allies and partners on that front, but - but when it comes to, you know, NATO playing a bigger role, I just - I don't have anything on that.

Q:  Another one from our colleagues.  So John Kirby told Voice of America today that the Pentagon would have more on joint U.S.-Japan-Philippine naval operations today.  Could you - can you give us some details about those operations?

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't - I don't have anything to announce today.  We will in the very near future, so just stay tuned.  Thank you.


Q:  You've mentioned that the Secretary wasn't a part of today's phone call with the Prime Minister.  Has he been a part of any of the phone calls between the President and the Prime Minister?

GEN. RYDER:  You're talking about over the history of time?  I ...

Q:  Let's say since October.

GEN. RYDER:  I - I don't have an answer to that.

Q:  Is that something we could get an answer on?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, look, the - you know, again, as I highlighted, there is going to be phone calls that the President does.  If he wants Cabinet ministers to join, you know, certainly that - that's his prerogative.  But I'd refer you to the White House to talk about who's joining White House calls.  It's really not my purview to be able to respond for the White House.

Q:  Pat, your purview is saying that the Secretary is on a call?  I guess I don't understand why it's secret or un-releasable if the Secretary participates in such an important call.  There haven't been that many since October.

GEN. RYDER:  Any other questions?

Q:  No, I just think - I'd appreciate you taking the question.  I don't - I don't think it's something that should go to the White House.

GEN. RYDER:  OK.  Anyone else?  Yes, sir?

Q:  Yes, thank you.  Just one quick question.  So Ukraine has struck a number of Russian oil refineries, and it seems like they're ramping up those attacks.  Has the Pentagon communicated with Ukraine about this?  And do you support these attacks at all?

GEN. RYDER:  Ukraine attacks against Russian oil refineries?  You know, look, the - the assistance that we're providing to Ukraine is intended for them to defend their sovereign territory and - and to take back their sovereign territory.  We don't provide any assistance for use outside of that.  I'd refer you to Ukraine to talk about their operations.  Certainly, our focus is on making sure that they can defend themselves.

Q:  And are you communicating with them about these ...

GEN. RYDER:  We have frequent conversations with our Ukrainian counterpart - counterparts on a variety of topics, so.

Did you have one more?

Q:  Yes.


Q:  (Inaudible) since you called on me.  Would you say, General, that the administration now is - is willing to use leverage against Israel to enact some changes in Gaza?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, Fadi, again, I'd - I'd point you back to the readout - the President's phone call and the readout and just leave it at that.  Again, I - I can't get into hypotheticals, I can't, you know, preview any potential future actions, other than to say I'd - I'd refer you back to the President's statement.

Q:  ... I mean, this is - it signals a certain shift, whether this is my reading or others.  What would you say back to this point to make hints at conditional support?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I - I appreciate the question.  That would - that's a presidential decision, so it's really more appropriate for the White House to address that question.

And I can take one more.  Yes, ma'am?

Q:  Thank you, General. At the Japanese (inaudible) summit scheduled for next week.  I think the security issues, such as a mobilization of U.S.-Japan asset to - expected to be a main topic?  And I know you're not going to get ahead of the outcome, but as DOD, what results do you expect from the summit?

And a trilateral summit with - between U.S., Japan, and Philippines was - is scheduled.  And considering the current situation of South China Sea, what kind of cooperation do you expect from those three countries?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So as you highlight, I don't want to get ahead of this summit, other than to say, you know, we certainly look forward to the opportunity to talk with our Japanese allies and further bolster our cooperation and our relationship as one of our most pivotal allies in the region.

When it comes to the - the United States and the Philippines and, you know, working trilaterally on the South China Sea, again, as I highlighted earlier, our main focus is on working together to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region remains free, it remains open, and that there's security and stability throughout the region.  That is what our focus is.  And so we'll continue to coordinate with one another and look at areas where we can cooperate to ensure that that's the case.

Thank you very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.