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On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby on President Biden’s Travel to France

On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby on President Biden’s Travel to France
On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby on President Biden’s Travel to France

2:12 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hey, everyone.  Thanks for bearing with us as we moved it up and then running a little late.  Kirby has a few words here at the top, and then we’ll try to get through a few questions.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, everybody.  Thanks again for your flexibility at the end of another long day here in France. 

I won’t rehash everything today.  I’m sure you all saw the President’s speech at Pointe du Hoc, really making clear how much we all should appreciate the sacrifices of the Rangers who scaled those cliffs and took and held Pointe du Hoc for several days, because it made a huge difference in our ability to push in from the beach. 

And of course, he also linked that gift that they gave us — all the vets of World War Two, and D-Day in particular — this gift of the strength of our democracy and why it’s important to be worthy of that sacrifice.  But again, I’m sure you all saw the speech. 

You also know that he met today with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine.  You saw the comments they both made at the top of the meeting and the readout.  I won’t rehash all that. 

I do just want to talk a little bit about tomorrow.  The President and the First Lady will participate in a welcome ceremony with President and Mrs. Macron at the Arc de Triomphe.  This is a particular honor, reflecting our close and very long relationship.  I’m sure I need not remind anybody that France is our oldest ally.  And when we’re talking about the importance of democracy here, in Paris and at Normandy, it’s probably a good thing for us to remember that we didn’t win our independence either without some foreign help and foreign assistance, specifically from France. 

But as they have this honor ceremony at the Arc, they will then proceed in a parade down the Champs-Élysées, which is already decked out, if you haven’t seen it already, with flags from the United States and from France.  The presidents will then hold a bilateral meeting in which they will discuss a range of pressing issues and topics of strategic importance. 

Now, obviously, earlier this week, we said that we’re going to underscore the value of the Transatlantic Alliance throughout this trip.  And we’ve done that, and we will do it tomorrow.  I expect that both President Biden and President Macron will discuss ways that we can continue to strengthen the NATO Alliance as we approach the 75th anniversary and the NATO Summit later this summer.  And we’re also going to talk about broader NATO-EU cooperation and how the transatlantic defense capabilities contribute to, quite honestly, a shared and global security apparatus. 

On the Indo-Pacific, the two presidents plan to talk about how we can deepen our maritime cooperation.  Specifically, we expect an announcement that we will work together to build law enforcement capacity — maritime law enforcement capacity particularly — and to increase U.S.-France technical cooperation on port security in the Indo-Pacific. 

Our respective development agencies will also work to expand humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and we plan to share best practices and work to improve coordination on development priorities in the Indo-Pacific. 

Finally, the U.S. Coast Guard and French Navy intend to participate in active discussions about increasing their cooperation and defining the full scope of what this could actually look like.  So, a lot more work to be done in that regard in terms of getting the French Navy and the Coast Guard together.  They’re already having these discussions, but they’ll engage in more intense and active discussions going forward to put some meat on that bone. 

As you know, both the President and President Macron have placed a high priority and an emphasis on addressing the urgent climate crisis, and both have been major proponents of clean energy solutions.  So, together, we’ve been exploring new areas of partnership, and we’ll continue to explore those in the discussions tomorrow — for example, through the U.S.-France Bilateral Clean Energy Partnership, which was established back in 2021, via our efforts to mobilize funding streams to also support nuclear energy solutions and to do our parts individually and collectively to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals. 

We’ll also plan on collaborating on ways to protect our oceans ahead of the U.N. Ocean Conference in Nice, which will occur next year. 

So that’s just to lay down a little bit of what tomorrow is going to look like.  Again, lots on the agenda.  And certainly, first and foremost among that will be, again, the issues right in front of the Transatlantic Alliance to include the war in Ukraine and how we can continue to support Ukraine. 

And with that, let me take some questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our first question will go to Jeff Mason with Reuters.

Q    Hi.  Thanks very much.  John, to what extent will Israel be on the agenda tomorrow?  And will both leaders express concern over the peace plan perhaps not getting to the point where you wanted it?

And just one follow-up on what you were just talking about, in terms of maritime cooperation.  Is that a signal that the U.S. plans to help more with migrant issues off the coast of France?

MR. KIRBY:  I lost you on the — you were breaking up.  Off the coast of Japan?  Is that what you said?

Q    Coast of France.  Migrant issues on the coast of France.

MR. KIRBY:  So the maritime cooperation was really more focused on the Indo-Pacific, Jeff. 

And as for your first question, I fully expect that both presidents will have an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in the Middle East.  Obviously, the conflict in Gaza.  And the President looks forward, as he always does, to hearing President Macron’s perspectives and his views on how things are going.  And I absolutely expect that the President will spend some time with President Macron talking about the way we have been pushing hard for this new proposal to get the hostages out and to get a ceasefire started. 

I will just answer the question now in advance of what I’m sure I’m going to get, which is that we are still waiting for an official response from Hamas.  We’ve seen some public comments, but we don’t take those as official or in any way confirmatory one way or the other.  We still have not received an official response from them. 

But the President will update President Macron on all that and, again, eagerly await his perspectives and his views, as well, on what’s going on in Gaza.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Seung Min with AP. 

Q    Hey, guys.  Thanks for holding the call.  I just wanted to follow up on comments that President Zelenskyy made this morning during the bilat.  He told the President that “There are details on the battlefield…you need to hear from us.”  Can you elaborate on what — to the extent that you can — what President Zelenskyy told President Biden and particularly about progress or changes on the battlefield, especially since the additional U.S. aid started arriving in recent weeks?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I won’t go into too much detail here.  I hope you can understand that, because I don’t want to talk about things that might make it harder for Ukraine to defend itself on the battlefield. 

I mean, he shared a very frank assessment with President Biden about what’s going on and the pressure that they remain under, particularly in the east, in the Donbas.  But I think it’s safe to say that while they are still under pressure from the Russians, particularly in the east, that because they have now been able to receive the benefits of five security packages and now a sixth coming, as the President announced today, that they have been able to thwart Russian advances, particularly around Kharkiv.  The Russians really have kind of stalled out up there; it’s basically — their advance on Kharkiv is all but over because they ran into the first line of defenses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and basically stopped, if not pulled back, some units. 

Now, I say that with a dose of humility, because, you know, the enemy gets a vote.  And right now, it certainly appears that they’ve stalled out.  But we can’t, nor will the Ukrainians, you know, take anything for granted.  They want to be able to not just stop the Russians but push the Russians back. 

And so, he did share with the President, again, his frank assessment, as he has always shared his frank assessment, of how things are going on the battlefield and what they need.  And the President, as you heard publicly, and he certainly did this privately, assured President Zelenskyy that they’ll continue to have our support.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Michelle with Bloomberg.

Michelle, if you’re talking, we are unable to hear you.

Okay, we’re going to go on to our next question, and we’ll try to get back to you, Michelle.  We’ll go to Aurelia with AFP.

Q    Yeah, hi.  Bonsoir.  I would like to go back to the Biden-Macron relationship.  And I was wondering whether you could talk to this, like, relationship on a personal level.  There have been some bumps, like the submarines, and they don’t always, you know, see eye to eye on all issues.  And of course, there is an age gap here.  So, yeah, can you describe what’s going on there, the level of trust, et cetera, et cetera?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, with all due respect, they have a warm and close relationship.  And it seems like people — and I’m not suggesting you are, Aurelia; that’s not what I’m trying to do — but it seems like some people are more focused on areas where they may not agree on everything rather than focusing on the strength of this relationship.  We are NATO Allies.  And the fundamental agreement between our two nations on all the major issues — you talked about the age difference; that’s never been an issue between these two leaders. 

And one of the things the President respects and admires so much about President Macron is that he’s as honest and as forthright as Joe Biden is.  That’s what he wants to see in a friend and an ally — you know, an ability to shoot straight, say what’s on your mind.  That’s exactly the way he likes to lead and he likes to conduct his foreign policy. 

So these are not two men that are strangers to one another.  And they’re not two men that are afraid to speak their minds.  But that they may not see every issue perfectly the same way doesn’t mean that the relationship is weaker or hindered or in any way set back. 

I think you’ll see tomorrow, from the walk down the Champs-Élysées all the way through, when they have a chance to come on out after the meeting and talk to one another, I think you’ll see that we are as close as we have ever been with our French allies.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Ket with France 24.

Q    Hey, guys.  I hope you can hear me okay.  Some of us are still on the bus back from Normandy. 

Just wanted to follow up on Aurelia’s question about one of the things that they don’t really see eye to eye — for example, the idea by Emmanuel Macron of possibly sending troops or possibly sending instructors.  I know President Biden has many times in the past said no boots on the ground, all of that. 

I just want to know what the President thinks about Macron’s broader strategy, which is: Let’s not tell Vladimir Putin where our limits are, what we’re willing to do, what we’re not willing to do — the sort of strategic ambiguity that he says should be put against Vladimir Putin.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, first of all, God love you for making that drive.  I know that’s a long bus ride. 

But, look, to your question, he certainly, as I said in my earlier answer, fully respects President Macron’s prerogatives and his ability to express his views about what’s going on in Ukraine and how and why and to what degree the French people are going to respond to support Ukraine.  And they have responded to support Ukraine with both lethal and non-lethal capabilities, and we’re grateful for that.  They are a key member of the 50-nation coalition that is supporting Ukraine. 

At the same time, as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief, he’s made his own view well known: that there’s not going to be U.S. boots on the ground in combat in Ukraine.  That has been the case, and that will remain the case going forward.  And he believes that that’s an important distinction to make. 

As for what is or is not transmitted publicly: Again, the President will leave it to President Macron to decide for himself how much information he’s willing to provide or how much clarity he’s willing to abide by. 

For our sake, President Biden has been very clear about a couple of things, and I’m happy to rehash them right now. 

Number one, we’re going to do what we have to do to make sure NATO is bolstered and strengthened to defend itself.  That’s why he added 20,000 troops to the European continent and made arrangements for them to stay there so that NATO’s eastern flank was well defended.  And he’s made that clear not only to our Allies, but certainly it’s been made clear by deed to the Russians. 

Number two, that we’re going to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself.  And we’re going to do that transparently.  I mean, just today he announced another $225 million in a drawdown package, taking stuff off our own shelves to give to Ukraine.  And we laid out for you all publicly what’s in that package.  So that’s number two. 

And number three, the President has from the beginning made it clear that we aren’t looking for World War Three here, and we’re not looking for a war with Russia.  And he knows and he has said, again, time and time again, that an escalation of this conflict to that degree is not only going to be horrible for the Ukrainian people; it’s going to have disastrous consequences, potentially, across the European continent.  Not good for our interests in the United States either.  The President, he’s made no bones about that, and he’ll continue to make no bones about that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Tamara Keith with NPR.

Tam, we can’t hear you.

Q    Here I am.  I’m here.  Thank you.  My question is that the schedule indicates that the leaders are — the presidents are going to deliver statements tomorrow to the press.  When President Macron visited the United States for a state dinner, there was a two-plus-two press conference, which is pretty standard.  Why is that not happening in this case with, you know, two democracies?

MR. KIRBY:  This was the arrangement that was made, that they would come out after their meetings and issue statements to you all.  And as you know, with any bilateral meeting or, in this case, a state visit, all of that is hashed out between the two sides.  And it was decided in our discussions and our planning for this visit that that’s what they would do — that they would come out and make statements to the press.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question, we’ll try to go back to you, Michelle, with Bloomberg, if you want to try again.

Michelle, we still can’t hear you. 

And, unfortunately, we don’t have much more time.  So as always, if you have any questions that we weren’t able to get to, please reach out to the NSC distro, and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as we can. 

Oh, Kirby just stopped me.  I think he has one more.

MR. KIRBY:  No, nothing newsy.  I just wanted to thank you all for your flexibility tonight.  I know we advertised this for 30 minutes later, and we started a little bit early.  But I do appreciate your flexibility. 

And as Sam said, if we didn’t get to somebody or you got something hot and burning that you need to ask, you just go ahead and send that question along, and we’ll do our best to answer it.  Thanks again.

    2:30 P.M. EDT

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/06/07/on-the-record-press-gaggle-by-white-house-national-security-communications-advisor-john-kirby-on-president-bidens-travel-to-france/