|3:35 P.M. EDT|
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Hey, everybody. Hello, hello. Well, heading to Asia. Okay, I have Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor. He’s going to just take a few questions, and then we’ll let him go.
MR. SULLIVAN: Sure.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, do you guys want to jump in, or do you want me to give a little bit of a laydown on where we’re going the next couple days? I can do it either way.
Q Can you talk a little louder though, please.
MR. SULLIVAN: Sorry. I was just saying: Happy to give a little laydown of where we’re going, what we’re doing the next couple days, or happy just to take your questions. Whatever you prefer.
Q Jake, can I try one?
MR. SULLIVAN: Sure.
Q How concerned are you about a possible nuclear missile or nuclear test by the North Koreans while — while we’re there? And what — what would it mean for the visit?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, we’ve been forthcoming in downgrading and releasing our intelligence and our analysis that there is a genuine possibility, a real risk of some kind of provocation while we’re in the region, whether in South Korea or in Japan. That could take the form of a nuclear test — the seventh nuclear test that North Korea has conducted. It could take the form of a missile test.
There have been a number of missile tests this year and, of course, North Korea has a long history — going back decades, at this point — of missile tests, both to advance their capabilities and to cause provocations.
We are prepared for those eventualities. We are coordinated closely with both the ROK and Japan. We know what we will do to respond to that. We have communicated with not just our allies but also with China that this would cause the United States only to increase our fortitude, in terms of defending our allies, and cause adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region.
Q Jake, what — sorry, go ahead.
MR. SULLIVAN: Just as far as the trip is concerned, I think all it would do what underscore — it would underscore one of the main messages we are sending on this trip, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners, we are here to help provide deterrence and defense for the ROK and Japan, we will respond to any threats and any aggression decisively, and our cooperation with these two countries bilaterally and the U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation trilaterally will only strengthen in the face of any further provocations by North Korea.
And if something does occur, it will only serve to reinforce and highlight the fact that the United States is going to be engaged in the Indo-Pacific, is going to be a stalwart ally, and is going to stand up to and not shrink from any acts of aggression.
Q Can you say what the administration is doing to get North Korea to the table for any sort of talks right now?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve made no bones about the fact that since the very beginning of this administration, we have reached out to North Korea to say that we are prepared to sit down and talk, without preconditions, to discuss a pathway forward to make progress toward the ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we have proposed to do that on an action-for-action basis — that we are prepared to take steps if they are prepared to take steps in service to that ultimate goal.
We’ve communicated that directly to the North Koreans through multiple channels. We’ve communicated that to our — in coordination with our allies and partners. And we’ve also spoken with the PRC about our willingness to do that.
Thus far, North Korea has not displayed any indication of willingness to engage in meaningful or constructive diplomacy. And as long as they continue to refuse to do so, we’ll continue to stay on the course we’re on, which is to impose pressure, to coordinate closely with our allies, and to respond to provocations with clarity and decisiveness.
Q Have they indicated anything like a meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Biden as one of the things that they desire for this communication?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve not gotten any indication to that effect.
Q I just want to go back to the historic stuff that was announced, in terms of NATO this morning.
MR. SULLIVAN: What?
Q The historic announcement with NATO this morning.
So, if Turkey decides that they’re going to block Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, do you think that an F-16 deal should go through?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I don’t want to answer a hypothetical question, because our view is that we believe that the Turkish concerns about the accession of Sweden and Finland that have been expressed by President Erdoğan and others can be addressed and can be resolved.
And today, when the President met with President Niinistö and Prime Minister Andersson, the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden indicated that they’re both intending to speak directly to President Erdoğan and their teams are going to engage directly with senior Turkish officials.
We’re prepared to support that effort in any way, but we think they can work through, and that ultimately Finland and Sweden will be admitted as members of NATO.
Q Have they been addressed yet, do you know? Have any of the checklist items that Turkey wants — have they been addressed yet, to date?
MR. SULLIVAN: Two NATO aspirants have had initial conversations with the Turks. They will have further very high-level consultations with them over the course of the next days. And they will work through this between them.
I don’t want to speak for the Finns and the Swedes. This is something that, you know, they feel they want to do as part of their effort to bring Turkey to a place where they support their membership. President Biden was very clear: We’re prepared to support that.
Also, I’ve spoken with my Turkish counterpart, Secretary Blinken has spoken with his Turkish counterpart, and we’ve indicated if there’s anything we can do to be supportive, we will do it.
But fundamentally, this is an issue about concerns that Turkey has raised vis-à-vis Finland and Sweden. This is not a U.S. issue, other than it being a U.S. issue in that we want to see it resolved in a way that brings these two members in the Alliance. And we’re confident that is going to happen.
So, I don’t think we’re going to get to the point where we have to think about the kinds of hypothetical —
Q On the — about the security guarantees and what that means, that — in the interim of this accession, what does that mean? How do you guarantee Sweden and Finland’s security?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, we are going to work very closely with Finland and Sweden to deter any aggression against either of them. And of course, we would be prepared to work with Finland and Sweden to respond to any aggression that occurred. And that’s on the basis of the very deep existing partnership that we already have with these two countries.
Our militaries are interoperable. We exercise together. We train together. And we would be prepared to work with the Turk- — with the Finns and Swedes and other NATO Allies to respond to any contingency.
But I’m not going to get into specifics of what that looks like. I’ll leave that to our respective militaries to work through. Just to say, on both the deterrence and the response side, the United States will be there for Finland and Sweden, if anything were to occur between now and the time that they are fully admitted as members of NATO and have the full Article 5 protection.
Q Can I just clarify that point? Because, yesterday, you were still saying that Article — Article 5 does not kick in until they’re fully members. Can you —
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. And I just said, before you started asking your questions before I finished my statement, which is: This is in the period between now and when they are full members of NATO, where Article 5 applies. We are prepared to work with them to deter aggression and to respond.
And that is different from the legally binding, in our view, security guarantee provided by Article 5. But as a practical matter, any would-be aggressor should be on notice that the United States will be there for Finland and Sweden in the event that they are attacked.
Q Are there any plans for the President to engage directly with President Erdoğan?
MR. SULLIVAN: Not at the moment, but the President made clear that the United States is prepared to do whatever we’re asked to do to be supportive in resolving this issues. And if that were requested of him, he would, of course, be happy to do it.
Q On a slightly different note, CNN reported today that Biden will be meeting with MBS soon. Can you confirm that and give us any details?
MR. SULLIVAN: I cannot confirm that. No.
Q Can I ask something about South Korea? Will you — will the President be addressing the issue of the $7 billion of Iranian funds — the unfreezing of that funding during his trip in South Korea?
MR. SULLIVAN: You know, on technical and expert levels, we discuss that issue with the South Koreans on a regular basis. This is bound up in the sanctions imposed on Iran’s nuclear program. I don’t know that it will be on the agenda of the two presidents.
Q Can you just clarify the U.S. position on the freezing of those funds, though?
MR. SULLIVAN: Our view is that the sanctions should be enforced, and that as long as Iran continues to advance its nuclear program, we should be working with our allies and partners to ensure that we are maintaining the form of economic pressure on them to sharpen the choice to get them to ultimately to agree to what is a perfectly fair and reasonable deal on the table for them in Vienna.
Q Jake —
Q On Ukraine aid.
Q Go ahead, Betsy.
Q On Ukraine aid, presuming that the bill passes the Senate today, are there plans for the President to sign it while he’s abroad?
And he had said in a statement that there could be — the funding would run out as soon as today. Is there any contingency for if there were a gap? Are there any consequences in any — even a short gap in funding?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, since we’ve been on the plane, I haven’t actually seen if the final vote has gone through. Maybe you all have. Has it —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It has.
MR. SULLIVAN: It’s passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s passed, yeah.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, the President does intend to sign the bill while he’s on the road so that he can sign it expeditiously. The modalities of that are being worked right now so that he can get it and sign it.
There won’t be a gap for that very reason. We, today, authorized the 10th Presidential Drawdown — the remaining $100 million — on May 19, just as we said we were going to do.
That money will be converted into capabilities. Those capabilities will flow in the coming days. And then the next Presidential Drawdown will be teed up shortly following his signature. So, we will have the kind of continuity of support that we asked for. And for that, we are grateful to the bipartisan backing that we’ve gotten from the Congress, who stepped up and did this in a timely fashion.
Q On China — Jake, can you share your reaction to China saying that this is becoming a “dangerous situation” with the stance towards Taiwan?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m sorry?
Q China was saying that they gave you a warning about how the situation with Taiwan is becoming a, quote, “dangerous situation” because of the closeness. Is that accurate? Are you aware of that report — that they issued that warning? They say that they told you it was becoming dangerous.
MR. SULLIVAN: I did not see the specific phraseology of “dangerous,” but they’ve offered formulas of that sort for months now. There’s not, I don’t think, anything particularly new in that statement.
Our view, as we’ve expressed many times, is that we are concerned about peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the ratcheting up of tensions. And we believe that China is contributing to the ratcheting up of those tensions through provocative military activities around Taiwan and around the Strait.
But we’ve been equally clear that our policy towards Taiwan has not changed. We support the One China policy, the Three Joint Communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act, the Six Assurances. And we remain committed to supporting peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and to ensuring that there are no unilateral changes to the status quo.
So, from — from our perspective, our position has been clear and consistent. And we believe that it would help if the PRC also dialed down the actions and activities that we think are contributing to tensions there.
Q Follow-up on China. So, there was a report this morning that China is replenishing its — or going to replenish its strategic oil reserves with oil from Russia. Does that cross the red lines that you’ve laid down for them in terms of cooperating with Russia on evading sanctions?
MR. SULLIVAN: We have banned Russian oil to the United States, but we have not imposed sanctions on the sale of Russian oil elsewhere. And, therefore, other countries purchasing Russian oil are not contravening the sanctions that we have laid out.
Now, of course, the Europeans are contemplating their own Russian oil ban, which we support. But President Biden made clear, when he issued the ban that we did, that we are in a particular position given that we’re an energy producer and so forth, and Europe is in a different position.
Q And to your knowledge, is that accurate, though, that that — that that’s what China is doing with Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, we have seen the statements about it, but we have not yet seen the action taken to that effect.
Q Two more on China, if you’re willing.
Q On Ukraine: After overreaching initially, clearly the Russians — seems to be signs that are settling into more of a stalemate over in eastern Ukraine. What — do you think there’s a — there’s a danger that time — people have assumed that Russia is the one suffering economically from the sanctions and so on, and even militarily. But if it says there’s a stalemate militarily, the West is also suffering from the sanctions — clearly, right? — it’s having a lot of spillover.
So is there a fear that time could actually end up being on the Russian side if they just want to settle for a grinding, you know, semi-frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine, just destabilizing Ukraine, and this goes on for months and months and months and months?
MR. SULLIVAN: You know, there — I certainly understand the question. There is something tragic in the logic of time being on the side of a country that is losing young men in large numbers by the day, as Russia is, and suffering — the people of the country, the economy of the country — under the weight of these sanctions.
So it’s — it’s hard for me — I can see a certain cynical kind of element to that logic. My view is: Time is not on their side because of just the sheer cost that is being imposed on them in human terms and in economic terms.
Moreover, Vladimir Putin bet that Western unity would crack. I think he has been surprised by the clarity and resolve of the response of the free world.
And one thing that every leader that Joe Biden talks to reinforces is that we’re prepared for the long haul. And we’ve been saying now for weeks and months this could go on for a long time. And our allies and partners understand that very well — our allies and partners in Europe and the allies we’re going to see right now — the Republic of Korea and Japan. And, in fact, the Republic of Korea and Japan have stepped up in really significant ways to support this effort.
And I expect that he will walk out of those meetings over the next three days with a sense of reaffirmation that we’re committed to this for as long as it takes.
So we feel that this significant asset we have, of unity in the face of this aggression, is an asset that’s durable.
Q Can I ask one more question?
Q Go ahead.
Q Two different things. One, if you could lay down a little bit of tonight — or I guess, tomorrow — on the Samsung visit and what we should expect on that engagement.
And then, separately, President López Obrador, I guess early this morning, made some comments suggesting an answer should be coming very soon on his concerns about exclusion of certain countries. Can you give us an update about where things stand there? Has the President made a decision? Do you — are you guys ready to put out an invite list? And will you meet his concerns?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’re having constructive conversations with President López Obrador. Senator Dodd, our special representative for this summit, spent two hours with him on Zoom yesterday. It was a good exchange of views. Ambassador Salazar will be engaged, even today. I’m not going to get into the details of what are candid and constructive conversations back and forth. And when we have something more to say on this, we’ll say it. I don’t have anything to announce today.
In terms of the event tonight, the President will be met by President Yoon at this Samsung facility, along with leadership of Samsung.
The facility is actually a very similar model to what Samsung will build in the United States. And that significant multibillion-dollar investment that they will be making in the U.S. will mean good-paying jobs for Americans and, very importantly, it will mean more supply chain resilience, because it will mean that the United States will be manufacturing significant quantities of semiconductors necessary as inputs for a lot of our key industries.
So the President will get a tour and then have the opportunity to speak to the public and to the press about the investments that Samsung is making in that semiconductor manufacturing facility, other investments Samsung is making as well that will help create American jobs and advance our competitive position.
And then the final thing that he will reinforce is that this ecosystem of high technology among democracies and free societies is one that needs to be protected against predation by other countries. And so he will have the opportunity also to say: Just as we’re promoting this kind of investment in advancement, we also need to protect these technologies from intellectual property theft.
Q Jake, to follow up on that: On export controls on high tech, are you expecting any outcomes with South Korea and Japan on this trip, on export controls on high tech?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think we’re going to have some very robust discussions on export controls, as well as investment parameters.
I don’t expect that we’re going to have specific announcements, because what we’re looking to do is align our approach around a set of principles and then on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to some new initiative or some new formula. And we actually believe that there has been substantial convergence, which will be on display on this trip, on this issue in both Korea and Japan.
Q Jake, can I follow up on China? You recently — or, a couple of days ago, you met with Yang Jiechi. I think you mentioned that —
MR. SULLIVAN: Spoke by phone, yeah.
Q Oh, you spoke by phone. Yes, correct. And then you mentioned that you discussed DPRK. I think you hit on Taiwan too, a little bit. Is there anything more that you can share from that meeting? Essentially, what kind of message are you conveying to the Chinese ahead of the President’s trip to Asia?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to say too much because I actually value the opportunity to engage with Yang in a way that allows for the free exchange of perspectives back and forth without it all being played out in the press.
But I will say that, you know, I was quite direct with him about our concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities and our view that this is not in China’s interests, it’s not in America’s interests, and that China can — you know, should contemplate taking whatever steps it can to reduce the possibility of a provocative North Korean act.
And, you know, it was a — we had a good back-and-forth on that subject. He shared his perspective, which I won’t characterize. And, yes, we covered Taiwan, and we covered some other issues as well.
Q Can I just follow up on another meeting, Jake? Did — can you confirm reports that you also met with a Pakistani spy agency chief and whether you discussed the issues of counterterrorism in Afghanistan?
MR. SULLIVAN: Met with him when?
Q Recently in Washington, D.C.
MR. SULLIVAN: I did not.
Q Well, did you have any communications with him recently?
MR. SULLIVAN: No, no — I’m not — I’m not being cute. (Laughter.) I met with the head of the ISI a year ago — the previous head — on a visit to Washington. But I di- — I have not met the current ISI chief nor spoken with him.
Q On the Yang call, just to go back to that, was that partially to set up another call between Biden and Xi?
MR. SULLIVAN: It was not. Although, I — I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming weeks, President Biden and President Xi speak again. But this was not specifically laying the groundwork for a call that is contemplated.
Q How come we haven’t — how come the administration hasn’t been talking to its Chinese counterparts very frequently, especially with Ukraine and the invasion? I think it had been two months since you had talked to Yang. Can you say maybe why — why isn’t there more communication with the Chinese?
MR. SULLIVAN: I mean, I’d have to go back and look at what the rhythm was in terms of National Security Advisor engagement with their kind of rough counterpart, like Yang. But I actually think the cadence is not unusual.
You know, we spent a whole day together in Rome. And then, you know, seven, eight weeks later, we had a good, long conversation yesterday. We’ll speak again when necessary.
So — and Secretary Blinken speaks with the foreign minister, I think, on a fairly similar cadence to what we’ve seen previously.
We’re certainly not intending to present any notion that we are slowing or we’re somehow constraining our high-level diplomatic engagement with China. We have said all along that we think intense competition requires intense diplomacy. And we should stay in close contact.
Q And just one more on China. Is the U.S. prepared to levy secondary sanctions on China for Chinese companies and banks helping North Korea — just as prepared to levy secondary sanctions on — for that as you are for China helping Russia?
And then also on that: Do you feel pretty satisfied that China isn’t helping Russia and that they have heeded your warnings?
MR. SULLIVAN: We have not seen evidence thus far of China supplying military equipment to Russia for its brutal war in Ukraine, nor have we seen evidence that China has systematically worked to undermine Western sanctions. But that’s something we continue to track very closely, week by week.
I’m not going to make any threats about secondary sanctions in public. We have had conversations with China in private about our sanctions regime vis-à-vis North Korea. And, you know, the fact is that an overwhelming majority of North Korea’s economic activity runs through China. And so, in the past, there have been instances where Chinese entities have been part of the sanctions effort.
And beyond that, I don’t have anything to add.
Q Secretary Yellen said yesterday that some of the Trump-era tariffs imposed on China — that they’ve done more harm on businesses and U.S. consumers than good. Is there — if that’s really the case, why not lift them?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President has asked his economic team and his foreign policy team to engage in a consistent review of our trade policy towards China. There are discussions now about how best to move forward to deal with the challenges that China poses to our economy and our national security with their non-market economic practices, and how to move beyond the trade approach of the previous administration.
He will ultimately make a series of decisions on that, following his — the opportunity to get advice from his team. And I’m not going to say anything else in public on that because I don’t want to prejudge what he ultimately decides.
Q Jake, could you talk about why the decision was made to skip the DMZ on this trip? Is it just too dangerous?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President has been to the DMZ before. It’s not that it’s too dangerous, no. In fact, we have — senior U.S. government officials go there on a regular basis.
But one of those U.S. government officials was then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2013. In fact, I was on the trip with him then as his national security advisor. And the head of U.S. Forces Korea — the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Scaparrotti, took us by Black Hawk up to the DMZ. He had the chance to see the whole thing, do the whole thing.
And he felt on this trip, rather than repeat that, he wanted an opportunity actually to see where the rubber hits the road in terms of U.S. and ROK forces sitting side by side or managing the theater.
And so, we will do that at the airbase. It will give him an opportunity to get briefed on the larger strategic picture in a way that actually will show him more than going and standing at the DMZ. It’ll give him a much larger domain awareness for the security threats to the Peninsula and the wider region.
Q Can I ask a non-security aspect of the Quad, Jake? So, in the March meeting, I believe, they announced — the Quad announced 1 billion doses of vaccines, mostly for Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asia.
Now it seems like that’s not going to be met — that target. I understand that the Indian manufacturer has run into trouble; they haven’t been given the WHO approval. But also, I think we’re hearing that experts are saying that it’s not a question of not enough vaccines, but not enough funding to get them into — shots in arms.
So, does the Quad see that reality? And is there — can we expect a pivot in strategy from the Quad on vaccines?
MR. SULLIVAN: We are working assiduously to get the necessary approvals because we think there still is the need for supply.
But in addition, we haven’t just been standing still waiting for that. Okay? Over the past several months, all of the Quad partners have worked together to get hundreds of millions of vaccines out into the world, many of them into Southeast Asia, and have put forward initiatives to help fund shots in arms. The United States has been on the leading edge of that.
And so, the particular effort to get an Indian manufacturer to be able to produce and disseminate these vaccines has been constrained by regulatory efforts, but that has not slowed the four Quad partners from having a very robust COVID response.
I do think that coming out of this last COVID-19 Summit, where we got $3 billion in new commitments, that the emphasis on testing, treatment, and shots in arms, in addition to actual vaccine supply — that that is something you will see reflected in the collective efforts of the Quad going forward as well.
Q Have you had any (inaudible) pandemic funding from the U.S., though? We don’t have any global pandemic response funding.
MR. SULLIVAN: I mean, first of all, we’ve — I can’t give you the exact dollar figure, but it is more than any other country has provided in terms of COVID-19 global funding. And we are continuing to pursue efforts, including major initiatives to get shots in arms, with the funding that has already been allocated.
Q Jake, going back to your earlier point about Samsung and the opportunity to talk about semiconductors and jobs, Hyundai is also expected tomorrow, in Georgia, to announce a big plant.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes.
Q Is the President going to get a chance to engage on that?
And if I could also — just a second question on Yoon and on Prime Minister Kishida: This is the first really big opportunity for the President to just spend some time with these two very new leaders. Can you just talk to us a little bit of, you know, what he wants to get out of that and just, you know, sort of finding out who these — who these two people are and how he can work with them going forward?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah, I mean, you’ve heard the President say before that — he refers to this Tip O’Neill expression that “All politics is local.” He says, “All politics is personal. All foreign policy is personal.” It’s fundamentally about these personal relationships with leaders.
And so, in both cases, he’s looking for the opportunity to just spend time to get to know these leaders so that they have a feel for one another and that then, when they need to pick up the phone in a crisis or to respond to a major world event, there’s a baseline of trust, understanding, and almost like a common operating language as they go forward.
He’s already built that, to a certain extent, with Prime Minister Kishida. They did meet in Glasgow last year. They have had the chance to do extended video conversations. He has spoken only briefly on the phone with President Yoon after his election, and he’s only extremely recently been inaugurated. So this will be an opportunity to build that relationship, you know, from — from the ground up.
In Korea, President Yoon will be there today. So not just in the formal bilateral context, but they’ll go through the Samsung tour together. He’ll come with the President to Osan Air Base for — for the briefing event with the U.S. and ROK militaries. And then they will have a very small meeting, in addition to the expanded meeting, to be able to get to know one another.
And then, with Prime Minister Kishida, not only will they have the opportunity for one-on-one time, but the Prime Minister will host him for a very small dinner as well that will give them the chance to just, you know, talk as humans, as opposed to as world leaders.
Yes, he will meet with the CEO of Hyundai in Seoul — that will be before he leaves on Sunday — and will have the opportunity to say thank you for this significant investment that will occur in the United States.
And, you know, we like to think that, in part, having this trip and having this emphasis on the relationship between the U.S.-ROK and investments in the United States has helped give it momentum and boost to these announcements you’re now seeing — seeing come out.
Q Jake, there was some language in the readout of your call with the Saudi Deputy Defense Minister that suggested that you talked about the economic recovery, which is not normally a topic with defense ministers. Just curious how oil was discussed on that call, whether you discussed getting them more and more engaged in helping the economic recovery by getting more barrels of oil out.
MR. SULLIVAN: I actually saw him in person. He was in town — is still in town for a series of defense dialogues. And he’s an important advisor across a range of issues, despite his formal title being Deputy Defense Minister. We did talk about economics, we did talk about energy, and I’ll leave it at that.
Q Can you talk about IPEF a little bit? Just —
Q On that, can I just follow up? I know you said you can’t confirm —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to need to wrap it up, guys.
Q — that the President is going to the Middle East. But is it possible that if he did go to the Middle East, he would meet with MBS? Would he meet with the Crown Prince?
MR. SULLIVAN: I really don’t have any announcements or even speculation on travel to the Middle East. And if and when we have any speculation, informed or otherwise, I will speculate.
Q Can you talk about IPEF real quick?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes.
Q Because this is something that you’re going to launch, right?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q So without any kind of free trade component, I think many are saying, “Yeah, countries will sign on because this is an important relationship with the U.S., but it’s really not an attractive package to many countries in the region.” Can you respond to — respond to the criticism?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah, I’ll respond to that. I think you’re going to see a really impressive display of energy and enthusiasm by a significant number of countries in the Indo-Pacific for the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
It is going to be a wide-ranging and comprehensive set of countries from across the region, a mix of different kinds of economies. And that diversity and breadth of participation, in our view, actually vindicates the basic theory behind IPEF, which is — you’re right — it is not a traditional free trade agreement. And that’s a good thing. It is a modern negotiation designed to deal with modern challenges.
So, we’re going to cover supply chains, the digital economy, the clean energy transformation, significant investments in infrastructure.
And we think that, at the end of the day, what you’re going to see is a response to the real-world challenges facing these economies and really meaningful progress on substance.
So, I think what’s interesting when you hear some of the “Well, we don’t quite know. We’re not sure because it doesn’t look like things have looked before” — I say, “Just you wait.” Because I think this is going to be the new model of economic arrangement that will set the terms and rules of the road for trade and technology and supply chains for the 21st century.
And, you know, we’re planting a stake in the ground that we want to be at the center of that. And we see a lot of countries signing on with us to make that a reality, and it’s going to give huge thrust and momentum to our economic initiatives in the Indo-Pacific.
The other thing is that there’s a certain lagging indicator here. I would say, two months ago, there was a lot of, like,
“Well, is this real? Is it not real? Is it something that’s meaningful or not meaningful?” Week by week, as we’ve built out the substance working with these countries, they’ve not only come on board, but they’ve gotten increasingly invested in and motivated by the elements of it.
So, we think this event on Monday is going to be a big deal and is going to be a significant milestone in U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific. And at the end of the President’s first term, I think we will look back and say this was a moment where the U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific got kicked into a different gear.
Q (Inaudible) is there any kind of capacity building or trade (inaudible)?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there’ll be significant resources around infrastructure, around trade facilitation. There will be the opportunity to set — to organize regulatory approaches that will make trade significantly easier. And there’ll be the opportunity for us to set the rules of the digital economy for the 21st century.
There’s a lot in this that people are going to want to be at the table at. And the reason we know people are going to want to be at table — at it — is they’re going to be there. We’re going to have a significant roster of countries signing up to this thing and joining us there for — to be in at the takeoff of this effort.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to just take two more. Two more, guys. That’s it.
MR. SULLIVAN: There was some intelligence that was declassified yesterday about — in Mariupol — what sounded like almost torture of city officials and residents. But a concern — it sounded like the intelligence was finding that Russian officials were concerned that the treatment could backfire. One, can you confirm that this — that these reports are correct? And — and, two, who are these Russian officials, and what is the sort of broader concern that is going on there?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to speak beyond the four corners of the information that was released yesterday, other than to say that we warned, before the conflict began, that we were likely to see brutality and repression by Russia in occupied areas. And we are seeing that in cities and towns across the areas that Russian forces are currently holding.
What we’re also seeing, increasingly, is the reality of the Ukrainian populace pushing back against this in these areas and the concern in Moscow that, in fact, what they had hoped for at the beginning, which is the Ukrainians would welcome them as liberators or as brothers, is not bearing out in the first instance. And the level of antipathy and animosity will only grow as Russia’s brutality and repression unfolds in these places.
And we think that’s a dynamic well worth watching, even as so many — so much of the attention is focused on the fighting on the frontline in the Donbas. Because what’s happening in these occupied areas is brave Ukrainian saying, “We don’t want to live this way.” And we think that that is going to impose its own form of pressure on the long-term Russian effort to occupy these areas.
And this comes back to the question you were asking at the beginning about whether time is on Russia’s side. We’ve seen before that military advances can give way to grinding occupations that bleed a country dry. And this is — this is not going to be a circumstance where Russia is just going to be able to sit on any territory it takes and have these courageous and brave Ukrainians just say, “Yeah, we’re fine with that.” They will not be.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question.
Q Jake, thank you. Have the North Koreans actually ever responded to any of the overtures from the Biden administration?
MR. SULLIVAN: I guess all I will say is that we’ve gotten no indications from them that they are prepared to sit down and talk. And that’s true from the opening weeks of the administration all the way through to today.
Q Do you know if they’re still — if Kim is still in touch with the former President? There has been reporting that says as such.
MR. SULLIVAN: I do not know that. Thank you, guys.
Q Thanks, Jake.
Q Karine, can you give us a sense of what’s going to be happening in Anchorage? We’re going to be stopping for an hour and a half.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, just a gas — gas refuel.
Q Will the President get off the plane for any kind of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t expect him to get off the plane. Yeah, we’re just refueling. That’s it. If there’s more, I’ll share that with you, but I don’t know of any more than that.
Okay. President Biden knows that parents across the country are worried about finding enough infant formula to feed their babies, which is why he has directed his administration to do everything possible to ensure that there is enough safe infant formula in the country available for families that need it.
Yesterday, we announced two important actions. As you all know, the President invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure that manufacturers have the necessary ingredients to make safe, healthy infant formula here at home.
Just to give some background on how the DPA works, I thought I’d dive in with some specific details here, since we’ve gotten so much inquiry about this.
The DPA is an authority that empowers the government to require companies to direct their resources to support the national defense. That includes supporting critical infrastructure and public health.
Yesterday, as well, the President gave HHS the authority to order suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good. So, with this authority, we can direct firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs as needed. This can and will help increase production and speed up supply chains.
Just an example of how this works: There are a range of things needed to make formula, from oils and fat blends to labels and cans.
The company that makes one of those items, like a label, has a lot of customers, one of which happens to be infant formula manufacturers. And they are likely a very small share of the overall market for that good.
By having DPA authority available for infant formula, we make sure formula manufacturers are at the top of the list for that item and can maintain the higher levels of production that the companies put in place in February to address the shortage caused by the Abbott plant being shut down.
Second, the President also announced Operation Fly Formula to speed up the important — the important — the import of FDA-approved infant formula and start getting more formula to stores as soon as possible.
By using DOD-contracted aircraft, we can bypass regular air freightening [sic] — freighting routes and speed up the importation and distribution of safe infant formula.
This is the same type of action we took to get critical COVID materials, such as testing supplies.
These announcements build on previous administration actions that have increased manufacturing production and are getting more safe infant formula onto shelves.
Sorry, my throat is a little dry. (Clears throat.) I apologize.
Q Need some water?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Probably. I apologize, guys.
Okay, Aamer, you want to kick us off?
Q On infant formula, does the President agree with criticism from Senator Wyden and others that Abbott fell short of its corporate responsibility with its failure to keep up with sanitation upgrades at its Michigan plant?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, the President’s — the President’s goal right now is to make sure he understands how difficult it is for families to find, in this — in this particular time, to find baby formula. And so he wants to do everything in his power, use every lever in his power to get that — to get that situation taken care of and to get us in a better place.
When it comes to Abbott — look, we have told this story. You guys have heard us say this. The FDA stepped in, and Abbott had — had a safety issue that the FDA flagged for them, and they volu- — Abbott voluntarily shut down that facility in Sturgis, in Michigan.
And so that is — the number one thing that’s important to us is safety — safety and health first.
And so, just — I just want to add to — so what we announced yesterday just builds on what we’re trying to do in order to get things back — to get things going again.
So there’s an agreement by the FDA and Abbott Nutrition detailing next steps to reopen Abbott Sturgis plant and make sure we do it in a safe way. FDA guidance is that that will allow major formula manufacturers to safely import formula that is not currently being produced for the U.S. market; efforts to cut the red tape and provide consumers flexibility on types of formula they can buy; and calling on Federal Trade Commission and State Attorney General — and State Attorneys General to crack down on price gouging or unfair market practice.
So this is a top priority not just for the President, but clearly for his administration. And so we’re going to continue working overtime, working 24/7. And that’s — that’s what we’re going to be focused on.
Q I mean, I get that the FDA was coming in to do the thing — it was working on safety. But does the President understand just the outrage that some people have? This is while Abbott was doing stock buybacks and they weren’t keeping up their plant.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we understand the outrage, right? We — we see how mothers and parents are dealing right now in this situation. As a mom, who had to deal with getting formula for my child when she was a little — a little one and was allergic to certain formula, I know how this feels — trying to make sure your baby is eating healthy and safely.
You know, clearly, I’m not dealing with this in this current form and what’s happening, which is — which is — you know, which is something that we’re trying to deal with.
So that’s the focus. Our focus right now is how do we — how do we do this safely; how do we make sure that we’re doing everything in our power, which we have been for the past several months, to get to a place where families are not struggling to feed their child — their children.
Q Do you have any sense of how many weeks, after you do all of these, before it actually makes a difference for parents?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know — so, by invoking — (clears throat) — excuse me. Wow, I really have a tickle in my throat. I’m so sorry.
By invoking — invoking the DPA. So the President, again, knows how important this is for families across the country. That’s why he has directed his administration to do everything possible to ensure that there is enough safe infant formula in the country available for families that are in need.
So, you know, again, this is going to cut the red tape and implement W-I-C — WIC flexibility so that parents can get any formula when they walk into stores. So that’s what we’re building off of: increased supply on the — market supply is higher than it was before the recall, so we have seen an increase out there before the recall; fighting against bad actors — as I mentioned before, with FTC — that may possibly be hoarding and selling product in unacceptable way — prices.
So work is so far from over, but with every action we take, we are making serious progress and elevating the shortage.
But when it comes to — I know folks were asking about picking up formula from other countries and when that’s going to happen and where that’s going to happen. You know, we’re working with manufacturers right now to identify existing stockpiles of FDA-approved formula overseas, to arrange pick up by DOD commercial flight. And we’ll have more details to share, and we’re hoping that happens soon.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to take a little bit of water guys, but go ahead, Nancy.
Q The Abbott plant — it shut down in February. Why did it take so long for the White House to act on the DPA? And why couldn’t those actions have been taken months ago? Like, how long is it going to take for results to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, as I said — as I just laid out, we’ve been doing this for months with the — our — the administration. We’ve been working on this for several months now. And the DPA was always on the table. We are always examining, trying to figure out the best way to do this.
But there are other actions, as I just listed, that we have been doing. This is a — building on the DPA. And the — and the Operation Fly
Over [Formula] is just an added addition to the — to items that we’ve announced just a couple of days ago.
So, we have not been sitting on this. We’ve been doing everything in our power to move forward as quickly as possible to really respond to what’s happening currently, right now, with the baby formula.
I’m just going to take one (inaudible). (Take a drink of water.) Excuse me.
Q On gas prices.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, ma’am.
Q Today, we saw another record high on gas prices. Do you have any — anything you can share with us on what the administration can do about that? And is there anything you can share on what the administration is discussing as you help Europe try to block Russian oil but that would lead to even more higher prices and — or — for U.S. consumers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this is something that’s been also a priority for the President: making sure that we’re lowering cost for the American people. We’ve announced several steps just in general, as we talk about lowering cost, the past several weeks — whether it’s the high-speed Internet for tens of millions of Americans or when he went to Illinois recently to give farmers the tools and resources they need to boost production and lower prices and feed the world.
You know, the nonpartisan
CBC [CBO] found that the deficit fell by $1.5 trillion this year, putting us on track for the fastest deficit reduction in any year on record. And one of the things — the two items that we did take on recently to address Putin’s price hike at the pump is the — is rallying our allies and partners around the world and release that 1 million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the — for the next six months, as you’ve heard us talk about. And that’s an additional 60 million barrels of oil from over the country’s reserve.
And also, we did — we allowed E15 gasoline, which is homegrown biofuels, to be sold this summer.
So, we have — we are doing everything in — that we can as an administration to make sure we address the high prices at the pump, with food, with other things that — with other items that the American public is feeling. And so, we’re going to continue to do that and make sure that we focus on what can we do for — from this administration to lower those costs — price. It is a priority. It is also a priority for this President.
Q (Inaudible) price caps?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share on any further — kind of any further items to preview on what we’re doing next.
Q And does the President have any issues with price caps that are being talked about in Europe?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have anything to share on that.
Q Karine, just — not to beat a dead horse, but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — you don’t have anything to share right now, but are there — are there other tools in the famous toolbox here? Because it’s — you’ve used up a lot of tools, and there’s been no noticeable effect for Americans.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I — you know, again, what we’re seeing right now, currently, as we’re looking at the gas prices — because, JJ, that’s — that’s just the question that she started off asking me — it’s because of Putin’s price hike. It’s because of what Putin is doing in Ukraine — his aggression and his war on Ukraine.
And so, we saw a jump in prices once that happened — about 60 to 70 percent. So we are doing — that’s why we did the last two things. The E15 was one of the most recent items that we pushed forward to try and help the American public and get the gases — the gas prices to come down.
So, I don’t have anything to preview, but the President has, as I laid out, a bunch of steps, has taken this very seriously, and understands the pain of the American public and what they’re feeling — American families — and what they’re feeling at the
price [gas] pump and with high prices in general.
Q You and other officials have mentioned Putin’s price hike very often lately. Do you believe that this will be an effective message going into the midterms?
And in addition to that, I think the President also hits really hard on other cultural issues. Like, I think during the AAPI event, he mentioned — or he condemned people who filled the shooters with crazy ideas. He also does a lot of the ultra-MAGA kind of sentiment.
So, I guess I’m — I’m trying to get a feel of what’s the messaging that’s coming out of the White House ahead of the midterms.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, let me get back to the — you’re talking about the “Great Replacement Theory,” which is a conspiracy theory that’s incredibly dangerous. And what the President said when he was in Buffalo in particular, when he was visiting with the families of victims and the families who lost their loved ones, he was — spoke very clearly and said that you have to call this out. It is important to call out the hatred. It’s important to call out this very dangerous theory. And — and white supremacy is poison. He said this.
And it’s important for the leader — the leader of this country, of our country; the leader of — one of the leaders of the — around the globe to make sure that he sa- — he says that in a very forceful way.
And so, that is what you saw the President do, and that is important — and critically important — especially how dangerous that conspiracy theory is.
Look, when we talk about Putin’s price hike, it is a fact. It is a fact that we want to make sure that we’re communicating very clearly with the American public as what they are seeing at the — at the pumps and why we’re in this situation.
So, you know, you asked me about — about the contrast of what we’ve been doing with Republicans. I mean, it is true, when you think about what we’re seeing with, you know, a woman’s right to choose and to decide what to do with their body, you know, that — that is something that the President has spoken about and the Republicans are against; when we talk about the leaked document that we saw from SCOTUS; when we talk about, you know, what we’re trying to do with the middle class and inflation. You know, that is the number one challenge for families, as we’ve been just discussing.
There are two potential paths forward. President Biden’s plan is to tackle inflation and lower costs for families. And congressional Republicans — MAGA — plan to raise taxes on middle class.
And so, we have to ask the question: Who has — who has their back?
And so, the President’s plans lowers everyday costs, lowers the deficit, and ask large corporations and billionaires to pay — pay for their fair share. The congressional Republican plan is to increase taxes on middle-class families and let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise prices and reap record profit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So this is important that we are able to say, “This is our plan, and this is what the other side is trying to do.” And we want to make very clear and — and speak to the American people about those things.
Q Karine, let me stay on gas prices — because now we are going into the summer traveling season, when demand usually shoots up. Is there a role for conservation here? And should the American public be thinking about driving less or planning different kinds of vacations to deal with the higher prices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So it’s not our place to tell the American public, you know, how they should spend their summers and what they should do.
We are doing everything that we can to make sure that we lower the prices. This is, again, Putin’s price hike — why we made the announcement on the E15 gasoline, which is going to, you know, have some long-term effects. And we’ll see that down the line.
And so — so we’re going to — again, we’re going to continue to do what we can, because this is a priority. This is incredibly important to the President. He understands what it means for the — American families, the American people to — when they see increased prices and how they’re — we’re trying to make sure that we alleviate that.
Q Karine, does the President have any reaction or concern about former President Trump telling Dr. Oz that he should simply declare victory in Pennsylvania before all the ballots are counted?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I ca- — I don’t — I can’t get into politics from here, so I’m not going to dive into that at all. I — you know, I mu- – I understand my role. And I actually have not spoken to the President about that, so I can’t even speak to the question.
Q Is he following the (inaudible) counting of these returns since it might be a close race? And, you know, obviously, I assume he’s for the Democrat, Fetterman, in that race.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah — well, yeah, absolutely. I spoke to that yesterday — or I can’t even remember; I lost my days. But when I was asked about that at the podium. But I — I’m not going to dive in into the politics of the midterms or the primary.
Q Karine, shifting back to formula, Senator Patty Murray says she gives everyone involved in the response to the formula crisis an “F” grade. Does the President share that view?
And Murray is also calling on the White House to appoint a formula coordinator going forward. Is that something you would consider?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, the — the coordinator, I — you know, we appreciate Senator Patty Murray. We work with her closely on so — on many issues. I do not have anything on the coordinator.
I — you know, I — look, we understand the frustration of, you know, the American public. We appreciate — the American public and the members. We appreciate members that have led on solutions to address the shortage. And so, we’re going to continue working closely with them.
Again, this is a priority for the President. He understands how difficult this is for working — for families who have children and trying to make sure that they are, you know, being fed safely. And that is our priority as well, which is how we got here. Right? We have to remember how we got here: FDA, you know, told Abbott facility that there was some safety issues, and they voluntarily shut down.
And so, safety is key here. We want to make sure that we’re doing this in a safe and healthy way.
Q Can I have one more foreign policy question, Karine? Can you give a reaction to the report — recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that decisions by both President Trump and President Biden to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan were the key factors that led to the collapse of the Afghan military, leading to the Taliban takeover?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: When — when was that reported?
Q This report came out, like, maybe a week or two weeks ago. And I actually sent the NSC about — an email about this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have not seen the report, so I would need to see it in more detail to respond.
You know how we’ve spoken about the Afghanistan and the operation and how it was just a non-ending war that we spent billions of dollars on.
And so, you know, this is something that the President had talked about — the strategy there and wanting to make sure that we got our troops out of there. And so, I don’t have anything more to add without really seeing — diving into the report.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. Thank you.
4:34 P.M. EDT