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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right, good afternoon, everyone. As you know, the NATO summit is being hosted in Washington DC this week. So, I have a few related updates and then I'll get right to your questions. Yesterday, Secretary Austin hosted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg here at the Pentagon for a bilateral discussion.

GEN. RYDER: The meeting was a great kickoff to NATO summit events this week, which provide an opportunity to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the NATO Alliance. During their meeting, the Secretary underscored the progress NATO has made on strengthening its deterrence and defense and thanked Secretary General Stoltenberg for his leadership of the alliance during one of the most challenging periods in NATO's history.

A full readout of the meeting is available on the DOD website. Of note, following the meeting, Secretary Austin presented Secretary General Stoltenberg with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honor that a Secretary of Defense can present to a non-US citizen, in recognition of Secretary Stoltenberg's decade of skillful, principled and visionary leadership.

In terms of other NATO summit-related engagements, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks delivered remarks earlier today at the NATO Summit Defense Industry Forum here in Washington, hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce. Her remarks will be posted on later today. And later this afternoon, Secretary Austin will participate in the 75th anniversary commemoration event hosted by President Biden at the Mellon Auditorium, where the original signing of the North Atlantic Treaty took place on April 4, 1949. And tomorrow morning Secretary Austin will deliver remarks at the NATO Public Forum to highlight the continued strength, unity and resolve of the NATO alliance to safeguard our collective defense and tackle security challenges together.

His remarks will be live streamed on and the NATO Public Forum website. That event is scheduled for approximately 10:00 tomorrow morning. On Wednesday afternoon

and Thursday, the Secretary will join President Biden for the NATO summit discussions with NATO heads of state at the Washington Convention Center.

During these sessions, he'll be engaged on discussions to ramp up transatlantic defense industrial production, ensure adequate defense investment from allies, demonstrate continued commitment to Ukraine, and the deepening of practical cooperation between NATO and its Indo-Pacific partners to include Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.

Wednesday evening, Secretary Austin will also host NATO defense ministers for a dinner honoring NATO's 75th anniversary and the Alliance's accomplishments at Fort McNair in Washington DC. So, a busy, productive and important week ahead in support of the NATO alliance, the greatest defensive alliance in history.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Go to the Associated Press, Lita.

Q: Thank you, pat. Two things, one quickly, can you update us on the pier, where it stands now? And if you have it, can you tell us how much aid has sort of been stacked up waiting until they reattach it? Like is there a — if you have a sense of that?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yeah.

Q: Then I have a second question.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, so in terms of the pier status, as of right now, it's still in Ashdod. My understanding is that CENTCOM intends to tentatively re-anchor the pier this week. So, we'll keep you updated on that, which will again enable the delivery of additional aid into Gaza. As far as the amount of aid that is in the marshaling area, again, I'd refer you to World Food Program for the specific amount.

But my understanding is that they've been able to transport a significant amount of aid from the marshaling area onward to warehouses for onward distribution.

Q: I meant how — do you know how much aid is on the floating dock and like at Cypress? Like what's waiting for the pier to —

GEN. RYDER: —Yeah, I'd have to refer you — I don't. I'd have to refer you to USAID on that.

Q: So, second question. The Secretary General has talked a bit about this new NATO effort to coordinate aid to Ukraine, etc. I was wondering if you could give us sort of a better understanding of how this will work with the Ukraine contact group. Does it replace it? Does it supplement it? What kind of — how do they — those two things work together?

GEN. RYDER: Sure, so first of all, when it comes to NATO announcements and the specifics on that, as I understand it, there'll be much more to follow later this week. So, I don't want to get ahead of that. But broadly speaking, to answer your latter question, no, it will not replace the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

DOD will continue to lead that group and support Ukraine's work to strengthen and modernize its forces for the long haul. As you know, there's some 50 countries that are part of the UDCG, which extends far beyond our 32 valued NATO allies. And so, we certainly will continue to welcome NATO's involvement.

They play an important role in the UDCG's capability coalitions and working to advance interoperability as Ukraine builds its forces. And so, again, as I understand it, the NATO role here will be in terms of helping to coordinate some of the training and security assistance, particularly as it relates to interoperability.

But again, much more to follow this week. Jennifer?

Q: General Ryder, I'd like to get your reaction to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi being in Moscow holding a summit at the same time that NATO is holding its summit. Is this seen as a threat to NATO? He was seen warmly embracing Vladimir Putin. Is it — is there any reconsideration of selling weapons to India if they're going to be so closely allied with Russia?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple of things. So, first of all, as you know, India and Russia have had a relationship for a very long time. From a US perspective, India is a strategic partner with whom we continue to engage in with full and frank dialog to include their relationship with Russia. As it relates to the NATO summit being this week, of course, like you, the world is focused on that.

But I don't think anybody will be surprised if President Putin tries to represent this visit in a way that seeks to somehow show he is not isolated from the rest of the world. And the fact of the matter is, is that President Putin's war of choice has isolated Russia from the rest of the world, and it's come at great cost.

Their war of aggression has come at great cost and the facts bear that out. So, we will continue to view India as a strategic partner. We'll continue to have robust dialog with them, and I'll just leave it there.

Q: He's not looking so isolated with the head of the world's largest democracy being in Moscow, embracing him right now.

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, I think that I would also note that the Prime Minister also met recently with the Ukrainian President and assured — and offered his assurances that India will continue to do everything within its means to support a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. I think that we trust that India will support efforts to realize an enduring and just peace for Ukraine and will convey to Mr. Putin the importance of adhering to the UN charter and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Q: And one more question. Why not let Ukraine into NATO right now?

GEN. RYDER: Look, there's been a lot of discussion on this I think across the US government and beyond. We all see a future for Ukraine in NATO, But it's not a decision for the United States. It's a NATO — NATO membership requires consensus of all 32 nations that are allies within the alliance. And so, I think certainly what you'll see this week are efforts to build that bridge to enable Ukraine to join the NATO alliance one day once that consensus has been achieved.

But in the meantime, there's a lot of work going on to enable them to defend their sovereignty from Russian aggression, but also help build that bridge in terms of NATO interoperability and the reforms required. Thank you. Let me go to the phone here real quick. Heather, USNI News.

Q: Hi. Trying this again. So, I was hoping that you could talk a little bit about what the Pentagon feels its responsibility is to combat this information from the Houthis. And then I was wondering if the Pentagon is getting concerned about the support that the Houthis seem to have gathered from their own people, or I guess the Yemeni people, and also you know from younger Americans?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Heather. I mean, I think broadly speaking when it comes to misinformation and disinformation, I mean that's a primary reason that we conduct these kinds of press briefings and engage throughout the world to provide factual information. And why you as a journalist dig into those facts to report them.

Look, the reality is you will see a lot of misinformation-disinformation out there in terms of what the Houthis are doing or are not doing. I'm not going to stand up here and be their spokesperson other than to say our focus is on trying to ensure safety of mariners through the Red Sea, as well as the as the freedom of navigation in this vital international waterway.

And then I'm sorry, the second part of your question?

Q: Is the Pentagon concerned about the level of support that the Houthis seem to have been gathering among the Yemeni people and then also among younger Americans?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not aware of — what specific level of support are you talking about? Can you clarify or is there some kind of reporting on that or statistics that you're citing?

Q: No, it just seems that, if you look at social media, that when the Houthis are claiming some of their things like after they claimed Roosevelt — or sorry, that Ike had been a target that you see a lot of support. And that there does seem to be some among the Americans that seem to be against the — what they're saying is the genocide in Gaza.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, look, I would just — again, I'm focused on the facts in terms of what the Houthis are or not doing and the challenges that they're causing in terms of negatively impacting not only their own people, but the safety of mariners, the economy in the region as well as the environment. And so again, we'll continue to stay focused on working with like-minded nations to preserve freedom of navigation and safety through that vital waterway.

And as for the credibility of social media, I will let you write and focus on that. All right, go back to the room here. Janne.

Q: Thank you, General. Two questions on NATO meeting. Military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is becoming a concern for NATO. It was reported that North Korea's military delegation departed for Russia yesterday to effectively implement the recently concluded military treaty between North Korea and Russia.

What is the Pentagon's concern about this?

GEN. RYDER: Oh, we've talked quite a bit, Janne, on the fact that we are concerned about the growing relationship between Russia and the DPRK. It goes back to what I highlighted earlier in terms of Russia's desperation to find partners that are willing to be complicit in

their war of aggression against Ukraine. And so, it's something that we'll continue to keep a close eye on.

Q: But the President Xi Jinping said that the conclusion of the new treaty between North Korea and Russia was reasonable as a sovereign country. How would you react about the solidarity of North Korea, Russia and China?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't have any comments on President Xi's comments. So, sir?

Q: Are you not worried about recent comments, I mean Xi's comment because [crosstalk] in China, they've been talking together. So, are you —

GEN. RYDER: —I would think we've been very clear in our position. Yes, sir.

Q: This is Jahanzaib Ali from Airway News, Pakistan. Pakistani government says that Pakistani military will continue their airstrikes against TTP hideouts, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan hideouts in Afghanistan. Is this something you are supporting in Afghanistan against TTP?

GEN. RYDER: Look, I'm not going to get into Pakistani domestic decisions. As you know, there are concerns throughout the region when it comes to terrorism. But as it relates to sovereign decisions by Pakistan in terms of how they protect their borders and how they address security within the nation, I'd have to refer you to them.

Q: [Inaudible] always say that [inaudible] that Pakistan or US has shared interests in combating terrorism. So, how US can help Pakistan to crush these terrorist networks in Afghanistan?

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, we have a long relationship with Pakistan working on counterterrorism. At the end of the day, those are discussions that need to happen

between the US and Pakistan in terms of what support does Pakistan request. Again, we have a security cooperation relationship in that regard. I don't have anything specific or new to announce other than to say, as we have for a very long time, we'll continue to have those discussions and look at ways we can work together to prevent and deter regional terrorism.

Q: Last question, sir. TTP is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, but we have not seen any strikes against them like we have seen against Al Qaeda and others. Is there no intelligence available or something else? I mean, why are there are no strikes against TTP in Afghanistan by US?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into potential future operations or discuss intelligence. So, thank you. Sir.

Q: Thank you, general. My name is [inaudible] with the BBC. I wanted to ask about Diego Garcia where the US government has blocked the British court hearing from taking place. Specifically, they said that the participants in this hearing, which is about a migrants' issue, wouldn't be allowed to board US military flights to Diego Garcia and would not provide housing, transportation or food, citing security and operational concerns.

Q: I'm wondering what those security and operational concerns are and under what conditions such a trip could take place.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. As you know, Diego Garcia is a US military base. As I understand it, the members of the traveling party for the hearing on the Sri Lankan migrants did not agree to the security measures required for visitors to the US Naval Support Facility at Diego Garcia. And so, now in terms of, well, what are those specific force protection measures?

I'm just not able to get into those, but — I'll just leave it there. Thank you. Tony.

Q: Not enough foreign policy-related questions. Yesterday the Pentagon off camera acknowledged the 81 percent cost growth in the Sentinel ICBM program that the Trump administration put into full scale development in September 2020. Can you give a feel for why the factors that allowed this — that have now resulted in this major increase four years later while the thing is still in development?

And what was Secretary Austin's reaction when he was briefed on this boondoggle last week?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tony. Well, as you know, as we announced yesterday, the DOD certified the Sentinel ICBM program for continuation. And so, this is consistent with our responsibilities under the Nunn-McCurdy statute. The decision was made following a comprehensive unbiased review of the program and the factors that led to the cost growth.

Secretary Austin was briefed on the review and the process. He agrees with the decision. In addition, related to this, as we also announced yesterday, the Sentinel program will undergo a restructure to address the root causes of the cost growth and ensure effective processes are in place to control costs in the future.

Ultimately, we are committed to restructuring the program to provide a robust nuclear deterrent while controlling costs. DOD and Air Force leaders have acknowledged that we can and must do more to improve program management and oversight of this important project as it moves forward. Both the DOD and the Air Force will continue to provide updates and offer more information.

As you know, we also posted a press release yesterday that listed all that out that also talked to what some of the factors were as it related to the cost growth primarily in terms of the facilities associated with and capabilities associated with housing the ICBM missile.

Q: Look, for people who don't follow this — four years later, it's gone up and the estimate is like 81 percent over what the original baseline was. What are one or two factors that, in

retrospect, you had a, oh gosh, moment? How could this have been missed? Can you give a feel for that?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, look, the way these processes work is, as you're implementing these programs, you reach certain milestones. As the analysis was being put together back in January, the Air Force acknowledged that there had been a cost increase associated with it. And as I highlighted, part of that was associated — predominantly associated with the ground launch facilities and the estimated costs at the time.

And so, again, I'd refer you back to the press release which provides comprehensive detail as well as on the DOD website. Dr. LaPlante, the Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment, also provided some additional detail.

Q: [Inaudible] was he PO'd, bewitched, bothered, bewildered or what?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I think the Secretary appreciated the thoroughness of the review and the fact that we acknowledge that we have more to do in terms of ensuring that we can get these costs down. And at the end of the day, his job is to defend the nation and ensure that we have, in this case, the strategic forces and capabilities required to defend the nation via the nuclear triad.

So again, a lot more work to do and we'll continue to provide updates as we move forward.

Q: Boeing, you — the Pentagon yesterday announced that it was working — it was reviewing the company's remediation plans in agreement with the Justice Department to make a determination as to what steps are necessary and appropriate to protect the federal government. I'm asking what's the timeline for this review of Boeing's remediation plan in light of its — the guilty plea that's on the table?

And what are some of the potential penalties to Boeing if in fact DOD finds them not a responsible contractor?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple things. So, first of all, as I'm sure you can appreciate and will be frustrated, I'm going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice for any questions related to any agreements between Boeing and the DOJ. So, in terms of timelines, I just — I don't have anything to provide right now.

I can tell you that the DOD would assess any company's remediation plans, as well as the agreement with the Department of Justice. And we would make determinations as to what steps would be necessary to protect the interests of the federal government in accordance with relevant federal and defense acquisition regulations.

So again, unfortunately at this time, I'm just not able to provide more specifics, but we'll certainly keep you updated.

Q: How long might this review last? Do you know how — roughly how long the review is going to take? And is it the general counsel's office here or OGC within the Pentagon who is doing it?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, at this time, I just can't speculate. I'm going to have to refer you to DOJ. But again, when we have more to provide, we'll definitely pass it along.

Q: Okay, fair enough.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, Louis?

Q: Two questions. One, there's been a report about a junior Navy sailor trying to access President Biden's medical records, at least just carrying out a search for the words Joseph Biden. Was this something that rose to the Secretary's attention? Did the Secretary communicate this in turn to the White House or — and how seriously was this taken within the department?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, as you highlight, in terms of this investigation, I'd refer you to the Navy for any questions on that. The bottom line is that they confirm that at no time was the President's personal information compromised, and that the record that the sailor inappropriately accessed was not the electronic health record of the President of the United States.

The Secretary was notified in February when the Navy became aware. The Navy also notified the White House through channels at the time, but I'd have to refer you to them for further questions.

Q: My other question has to do with President Biden's interactions with Secretary Austin. Has there come a time whenever Secretary Austin has felt that potentially President Biden's decision-making may have been impacted by potential health conditions or anything like that?

GEN. RYDER: No. Okay, any questions? All right. We'll go a final question, Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. The military is conducting three sink exercises this summer, including the USS Tarawa, a former amphib. Is the fact that the military is conducting so many sink exercises and testing its anti-ship weapons an indication that it believes the time to prepare for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is running out?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. So, again, as Secretary Austin has said, he does not believe that an invasion of Taiwan is imminent nor inevitable. When it comes to exercises, whether it be the exercises you highlighted or any exercises we do around the world, it's demonstrative of the high emphasis we place on readiness and ensuring that our forces are ready for a variety of contingencies around the world for interoperability with our partners and allies in terms of working together so that we are ready to support a range of contingencies to include humanitarian assistance operations, disaster response operations or crisis and war.

So again, I'll just leave it there.

Q: I just want to clarify a question, something you said earlier in response to Lou's question. You said that Austin hasn't had any concerns about the president's health and his conduct with him. Can you clarify, is that a question you asked Austin? How did you — you said it quite quickly and I'm trying to understand how — is that a discussion you've had with the Secretary?

GEN. RYDER: Look, we have had that discussion with the Secretary in terms of monitoring all the coverage that's out there these days, obviously. The Secretary has full confidence in the President's leadership as he has had from day one. And so, I'll just leave it there. Okay, thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.