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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

“The President is confident in transatlantic unity in Ukraine”

Dismissing fears of growing war fatigue on both sides of the Atlantic, John Kirby told media that President Biden is confident that the unity of Western allies remains “strong, determined and united”. Kirby also recalled a warning to Beijing not to supply arms to Russia, so as not to “undermine China’s position in the international community”.

media: President Biden meets Chancellor Scholz. Both recently met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they will compare their views on support for Ukraine. Will they also talk about ways to peace?

John Kirby: I think both leaders share Ukrainians’ desire for a just and sustainable world – a world that affirms Ukraine’s sovereignty and preserves its independence. Moreover, they both agree that this should be a peace that President Zelensky can subscribe to; this should be done in full consultation, in full coordination with the Ukrainians. Otherwise there is no way peace will ever come and it will not be lasting.

media: Last week, 10,000 people in Germany protested the shipment of arms to Ukraine. Chancellor Scholz is under political pressure. Does the president fear this will affect NATO unity?

John Kirby: No, the President does not see this as a concern for the unity of allies. If you look back over the past year, you will see that the allies have been incredibly resilient, determined and united in support of Ukraine. And the President is convinced – especially after his return from the meeting with the G-9 in Bucharest, his meeting with his colleague in Poland and, of course, after his meeting with President Zelensky in Kiev – he is even more convinced that the Allied unity will be maintained. But we don’t take anything for granted. We know that we must continue to work to give Ukraine the support it needs most. However, the president is convinced that the allies will remain united.

media: Ukraine is the focus of the meeting. But does the president also hear about the strategic risk for Germany of being dependent on China for trade, just as it was risky to be dependent on Russian gas? Will the President urge the Chancellor to take a tougher stance on Beijing?

John Kirby: This visit from the German Chancellor is really about how we can stay coordinated while supporting Ukraine. And I would like to point out that Chancellor Scholz yesterday expressed his concerns about the possibility of China supplying lethal weapons to Russia and called on China to focus on persuading Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. First of all, this intrusion is illegal. But as far as economic practice is concerned, these are sovereign decisions that Chancellor Scholz must take on behalf of the German people.

media: Regarding possible Chinese arms sales to Russia, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently said that if China did this it would be a red line. Is the administration ready to support this warning?

John Kirby: I don’t think it’s worth speculating at this point. You heard Secretary of State Anthony Blinken say that. He mentioned privately to his Chinese counterpart that we obviously don’t want them to go in that direction. They didn’t, although they didn’t take it off the agenda. We have been very open about the implications of this decision. Obviously, at the very least, this decision will be a blow to China’s position in the international community.

China has a choice to make. Does he really want to side with Russian President Putin? Does he really want to help Mr Putin kill innocent Ukrainians? Because that’s what it would look like. And if China cares about its international reputation, one would assume that it would not consider it in its best interests.

media: Let’s talk more about this “reputation or infamy” strategy. When preparing for the Russian invasion, you said you had information that Putin was going to launch an invasion, and he did. Today you say that China has the potential to arm Russia. But if the warning strategy didn’t work to stop Putin from invading Ukraine, why do you think it will work to stop Xi Jinping from helping Putin?

John Kirby: It’s not about shame. It’s about sharing our concerns privately with the Chinese side, as well as sharing our concerns publicly that we see signs that China could potentially be moving in this direction. China has a choice to make. President Xi Jinping has a choice to make. And we urged him to do the right thing, not to allow Mr. Putin to easily kill innocent Ukrainians.

media: And would such an approach, in your view, be an effective deterrent?

John Kirby: It will depend on President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people.

media: We know that Iran and North Korea have supplied arms to Russia. Besides Belarus, what other country could potentially become a conduit for Chinese arms to Russia?

John Kirby: This is an excellent question for Vladimir Putin. Where else will he turn to try to get weapons and opportunities to continue the carnage in Ukraine? We know that the Iranians are an integral part of this effort. The North Koreans are known to have provided, at least on some occasions, artillery ammunition to the Wagner group. And I think President Putin should have told us who else he would turn to on this murderous path.

media: Sources potentially point to Myanmar as one of the possible countries. Do you have any information to back that up?

John Kirby: I don’t have any other countries on the list that I could talk about today.

media: Yesterday we talked about $620 million in arms sales to Taiwan. Do you think that in this way the administration of the White House helps Taiwan to prepare itself, to supply itself with ammunition in the event of a Chinese blockade?

John Kirby: It’s about helping Taiwan with its self-defense capabilities. In particular, we are talking about ammunition for their F-16 fighters. We work hand-in-hand with them regarding their needs, and this is entirely in line with our obligation, both legal and moral, to ensure that they have sufficient capacity for the necessary self-defense.

media: All things considered, could supplying arms to Taiwan give Beijing an excuse to send weapons to Russia?

John Kirby: This is a question for President Xi Jinping. There should be no reason for him to seek to supply arms to Russia. He should have no reason to seek to help Mr. Putin kill innocent Ukrainians. What is actually included in President Xi Jinping’s calculations is a question for him.

Selling arms to Taiwan is consistent with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act and our belief that we must continue to help it maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities. This is a separate issue from Ukraine.

media: Does the White House see Iran as a global rather than a regional threat?

John Kirby: Iran has certainly been a regional threat for some time, and it continues to be. They fuel instability throughout the Middle East, continue to support terrorist networks, continue to threaten shipping in the Persian Gulf and beyond. And now they directly influence the war in Europe. So, of course, they spread their harmful effects far beyond the region.

media: Do you consider them a global threat now?

John Kirby: I’m not going to characterize them as anything other than that they’re a malevolent actor in the region and they’re now extending that influence beyond the Middle East. The other part of this that’s worrying – and we’ve talked about this before – is that they’re looking for Russian capabilities in return. If that happens, Iran will benefit from Russian technology, making it an even greater threat to our friends and partners in the Middle East.

media: Is there any news of the poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls? Yesterday you said the reason is unknown. Do you know more details at the moment? UNICEF has offered assistance to Iran. Is the United States ready to offer the same?

John Kirby: I’m afraid we don’t have more information on these poisonings. They are deeply disturbing. We want the Iranian government to investigate – they say they will. We want this investigation to be thorough, complete and transparent both to the Iranian people and to the rest of the world. Children should not worry about their safety when they go to school. They should be able to think not about that, but about studying.

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