Pentagon Press Secretary Conducts On-Camera Press Briefing

MAY 18, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby
Full transcript:

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll get at it. I think you saw that the secretary spoke again with his Israeli counterpart this morning, Benjamin Gantz. The secretary again reiterated our unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and to protect Israeli citizens and civilians. And he of course lamented the loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives.

He expressed his support for de-escalation of the conflict and for the restoration of calm. But, again, I think you guys already saw our — our readout.

[…unrelated to IPA]

Q: I have a quick follow up on a different subject. The secretary’s readout today of his third phone call with Benny Gantz, for the first time, mentions the Palestinians. He has not done that in his two previous readouts.

So I have two questions on this — why today did the department decide to suddenly start mention — mentioning the Palestinians, and what has Secretary Austin learned about the Israeli bombing of the news — of the building in Gaza where news organizations were housed?

MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about intelligence issues. And as for mentioning the Palestinians, I mean, there’s — I — I — I — it’s not as if there was some sort of radical shift in the way the secretary’s thinking about the conflict today. We have seen casualties on both sides — he mentioned that in the readout — and those casualties continue to mount, and that’s of concern to him and that’s why he — he mentioned it on the call today and that’s why it’s mentioned in — in the readout.


Q: Hey, John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: If I could just go back to the call Barbara was mentioning — so you — it — it — mentioned — you know, it’s quote-unquote “Israeli-Palestinian lives” — so when that was brought up, what was the context and what did Secretary Austin say? Did he say “hey, stop killing so many civilians” or was it more of a “hey, just don’t kill as many”? I mean, it’s — it’s unclear what he actually meant. And — and — and I have a separate follow up.

MR. KIRBY: The secretary was clear that we don’t want to see any additional innocent civilian lives lost on either side. Who was — go ahead.

Q: Give us a little bit more on — on the call, on the substance. Did he ask his counterpart in Israel what are the things that we should not be seeing done by the Israelis, what are the things that should be done, or they would like to see an immediate ceasefire?

I mean, give us a little bit of — more substance on what they talked about.

MR. KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to provide a whole lot more context than was in the readout. I typically don’t do that. But — you want to get that, Jim? So I’m not going to go into more detail than was in the — the readout.

I can tell you that the readout accurately reflected the tone, the tenor and the — and the main gist of the phone conversation.

Q: A follow up — is Israel receiving now any military support from the U.S. to continue its operation in Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: If you’re asking me are they — have they asked for any additional, specific support for these operations, the answer’s no.

Q: I’m asking if they are receiving any support to continue their operations.

MR. KIRBY: They have not asked for any additional support. The — we continue to stand by Israel’s right to defend itself and it — and its citizens. As you know, we have a strong bilateral military relationship with Israel and that has not changed as a result.

[unrelated Q’s…]

Q: Gen. Mattis said that if the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians continues that there’s a risk of broader destabilization. Does the secretary share this concern or this assessment? If yes, did he convey this message to his Israeli counterpart?

MR. KIRBY: I think that — I think if you look at the readout from today you can see that that very much is his concern and we expressed that in the readout of the phone call that — that we all want to see the — the violence deescalate.

We don’t want to see tensions get worse than they already are. And I think, you know, that the secretary made that — made that plain and we tried to capture that in our readout of it.

Q: Did he ask for, like, immediate cease-fire?

MR. KIRBY: I won’t get into any more detail than what’s in the readout of the phone call. I can tell you that that readout accurately portrays the content of that phone call and the tone and the tenor that the secretary took.


Q: Hi John, thanks very much. We were wondering about the IDF’s elaborate deception which appears to have been an attempt to use independent foreign media for tactical purposes. Do you have any comments on that incident or more broadly does this department feel that such tactics are appropriate? Similarly, on the attacks on the building housing foreign press, can you confirm that the munitions used were not manufactured in the United States? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: I do not have a comment on those press reports of deception. That’s a question that only the Israeli Defense Forces can answer. That’s not for me to speak to. And I don’t — I’m not going to comment on specific munitions.

Again, the Israeli Defense Forces, they’re responsible for these operations. They should be responsible for speaking to them. And I think as you know, arm sales are handled by the State Department, not by the Defense Department.

Q: Hey John, thank you very much. I have a question. I know you don’t want to comment on U.S.-made weapons that are being used in Israel operations. However, my question is this, does the secretary or the department have any responsibility to make sure that when Israel uses these weapons in operations, noting that so far 217 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 63 children.

U.S. media and international media outlets infrastructure have been targeted. Does the department have any responsibility to press Israel on the usage of these weapons and basically holding it up to the same standards that the U.S. military actually follow in its own operations?

MR. KIRBY: Again, Fahdi, questions better put to the State Department. They handle arm sales, not the Defense Department. There are, as you know, end user agreements for many arms sales. I won’t get into that specifically because they’re different for different countries and for different systems, but that’s handled by the State Department. Your question is much better put to them.

Yes, Janne?

Q: Thank you John. I —

MR. KIRBY: But I will say — just before — the only thing I’d add is, and again, it was evident in the readout today of the phone call, we certainly continue to express our concerns about the tragic loss of innocent life on both sides.

[unrelated to IPA…]

Yeah, Nancy?

Q: I have two follow up questions to Barbara’s question, please. On the statement on — in reference to the Palestinians for the first time that you put out today, does the secretary believe that the Israeli use of force has been proportionate up until this point, as the inclusion of the Palestinians in that statement suggests that he has changed his opinion in the course of this conflict?

And on the — on the call between the two, the Israelis have said that they shared intelligence with Secretary Austin about this strike on the building housing AP and Al Jazeera, and given the serious of the — seriousness of the allegations and the expectation that by releasing that information to the U.S., that that – adds credence to their decision to launch those strikes, I wonder if you’d at least confirm that you have that information, that it’s been conveyed? I’m not asking for specific intelligence, but that it was conveyed.

And if — and what — what happens from this point — this is something the U.S. has asked for, I imagine in — in an effort to get credibility and transparency for it about the strike, and I think one way to advance that would be at least to acknowledge that it happens and that the U.S. is doing …

MR. KIRBY: I won’t speak to intelligence matters or intelligence shared one way or the other between Israel and the United States. In — I can assure you that the secretary, as we indicated today, laments the loss of all innocent life, Israeli and Palestinian, and he expressed that concern today in the phone call.

And I’m …

Q: Can you say whether he’s — he feels that strike — that use of force has been proportionate?

MR. KIRBY: He would like to see the situation de-escalate and he would — and he — and — as we’ve made very clear, does — does not desire to see any more innocent lives affected or lost as a result of this conflict. We’ve got one more.

Q: Hi, I’ve got a quick question on the Israel-Palestine issue again. So a few days after the fighting broke out last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl met with Israeli counterpart — his Israeli counterpart here at the Pentagon.

The readout from the call seems to suggest an openness on the part of the department to continuing to support Israel, potentially materially, as requests potentially come in. Just wondering what the latest messaging from the department on that is. Is — has that messaging changed? I know the Israelis haven’t requested anything yet, but does — does the department’s openness to assisting the Israelis with — with …

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not — I’m not sure I — I — I came away from that conversation with the same impression that you did, but obviously we have a longstanding, bilateral security relationship with Israel and that relationship continues, and we want to continue to see it improve over time.

There are no additional requests by the Israelis for support, with respect to these operations, and I don’t — I know there’s — that there’s no change to that situation, and again, what — what we want to make clear is, again, Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens from these rocket attacks and we support that right of self-defense.

We also would like to see the tensions de-escalate and — and for no more innocent lives to be lost, OK? All right, thank you, everybody.

Q: Thank you.