☷Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby February 8 2024
White House ( By Press Release office)
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It smells like a chimney - like a fireplace . Hey everyone , good afternoon . Q Hello . Hey , I just have one quick thing to start and then we can get to your questions . So , this afternoon , the President is looking forward to meeting with Leader Jeffries , Chair Aguilar , and other top leaders and members of the House Democratic Caucus . He will be talking about our shared focus on making progress for the American people , like creating jobs , supporting small businesses , growing the economy , and increasing wages . We also want to protect and improve access to healthcare , take on Big Pharma , and take action on issues like climate change , gun violence , and threats to our freedom . This is in contrast to what House Republicans are focused on right now - causing chaos , undermining national security , and playing political games . As the President said earlier this week , Republicans need to decide who they serve . The President and House Democrats know who they work for - the American people . So , with that , we have the Admiral back in the briefing room to give us an update on the Middle East and answer your questions . Take it away , Admiral . Thank you . MR . KIRBY: Actually , I don ' t have an opening statement . I ' ll save you that . So , let ' s just get right to the questions . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Alright , here we go . MR . KIRBY: Sorry to bring you back up . ( Laughter . ) Q That was very - MS . JEAN - PIERRE: I actually knew that , but I forgot . MR . KIRBY: Well , you bounced back quickly . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: I know , I ' m flexible . Q Thanks , Admiral . Can you talk about the administration ' s reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu ' s plans to send the Israeli military into Rafah? And is the administration warning the Israeli government against doing so , considering the UN ' s warning that it would cause a humanitarian catastrophe? MR . KIRBY: Well , I can ' t speak on behalf of the Israelis and their military operations , but I can tell you that we haven ' t seen any plans that indicate they are about to conduct any major operations in Rafah . We are aware that over a million Palestinians are seeking shelter in and around Rafah , as they were instructed to do . There are a lot of displaced people there . Q: Sorry , I have a follow - up . MR . KIRBY: Look , negotiations are still ongoing , and nothing is final until everything is agreed upon . Secretary Blinken expressed optimism that a deal can still be reached to extend the pause , provide more aid , and secure the release of as many hostages as possible . We are working tirelessly on this and remain hopeful that we can achieve a resolution . And the Israeli military has a special responsibility to ensure the protection of innocent civilian life while conducting operations in Gaza or anywhere else . Particularly , they need to consider the safety of the civilians who were forced into southern Gaza due to operations in Khan Yunis and North Gaza . I can tell you that if the military doesn ' t prioritize the protection of civilians in Gaza , any military operation would be a disaster for them , and it ' s not something we would support . Q: Oh . . . Q: According to the Israeli military and family members , the Israeli military has detained three U . S . citizens during Secretary Blinken ' s current trip: one woman in the West Bank on Monday and two brothers in Gaza this morning . Does the White House have a reaction to that? MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Go ahead . Go ahead . Sorry . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Karen . Q: And what happens now that Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the Hamas proposal on hostages? Q: So , John , has Israel considered the protection of civilians in Rafah , as far as you know? MR . KIRBY: We ' re still processing this information , and we need more details about the reasons behind it . Our Ambassador , Jack Lew , is looking into this matter , and we take it very seriously . We will be speaking with our Israeli counterparts to gather more information and context about what happened . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Go ahead , Steve . MR . KIRBY: Well , from what we have seen , there is no indication of operational planning or specific plans for a major ground operation around Rafah . So , we haven ' t seen any plan that takes into account the protection of civilians . Any responsible military plan would need to prioritize the safety of over a million displaced people in that area . Given the current circumstances , we believe a military operation at this time would be disastrous for those people . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Oh , go ahead . Sorry . A: I ' ll let Mr . al - Sudani address any political pressure he ' s facing . We fully respect Iraq ' s sovereignty , and our troops are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government to advise and assist their military in combating the ongoing ISIS threat . We ' re talking with the Iraqis about what our plans are moving forward and whether the mission is still necessary . These discussions are ongoing . But look , if our troops weren ' t being attacked , there wouldn ' t be a need for us to retaliate . Regarding Iraq ' s relationship with Iran , we have a good relationship with the Iraqi government . As for Ukraine , it ' s up to President Zelenskyy to decide who leads their military , and we ' ll work with whoever he chooses . We ' re not worried about instability in Ukraine because of this change . There were no discussions between us and the White House about this decision . It was solely President Zelenskyy ' s choice , and we had no say in it . Netanyahu made it clear yesterday that he ordered his troops to be ready to enter Rafah . Why aren ' t you taking his word at face value? And , there ' s a military report that says a fifth of the hostages in Gaza are already dead . I know you blame Hamas for taking them in the first place , but do you think Netanyahu shares some blame too for obstructing potential deals and putting the hostages ' lives at risk , including American hostages? Regarding your second question , you ' re right that Hamas is responsible for the abduction of the hostages and any harm that comes to them . There was a deal in place that managed to release a good number of hostages over a week , and we ' ve been working nonstop to try to establish another one . We ' re currently in discussions for an extended pause . We ' re hopeful and optimistic that we can reach an agreement . Michael , please go ahead with your question about the statements on Rafah . On one hand , I mentioned that any military operation there would need to consider the protection of civilians . On the other hand , I also stated that it would be a disaster . In regards to the two American Palestinians taken by the Israeli army , we ' re still gathering information and discussing it with our Israeli counterparts . We take this seriously and will update if we have more information . The same goes for the American from Louisiana who was arrested in the West Bank . We have to consider privacy considerations as well . The idea is that there might be a military operation in Rafah that could protect civilians . Or maybe the message is that any military operation would be impossible or indefensible given the situation in Rafah . I haven ' t seen a plan , so I can ' t say for sure . But our view is that any major military operation in Rafah right now , without considering the safety of the million and a half Palestinians seeking refuge there , would be a disaster and we wouldn ' t support it . Can you see a way to consider their safety and make a military operation in Rafah work? That ' s a speculative question and I can ' t answer it . We haven ' t seen any indications of planning for a major operation in Rafah . But right now , without proper planning and consideration for the innocent lives there , a military operation would be a disaster and we wouldn ' t support it . Are you concerned that Tucker Carlson ' s interview with Vladimir Putin could further erode support for Ukraine aid in the US? We believe there is strong bipartisan support for supporting Ukraine on Capitol Hill . Efforts are being made to bring a vote for supplemental funding for Ukraine , Israel , Indo - Pacific , and humanitarian assistance . The President believes support for Ukraine is critical , especially as Russia continues to attack their defense and units . He ' s confident that the leadership on Capitol Hill is solidly in support of Ukraine , but we can ' t predict how a television interview might impact them . I ' m asking beyond just Congress . I think it ' s best if I refrain from discussing our conversations with members of Congress publicly and leave it to those private discussions . The President thinks it ' s really important to support Ukraine right now , and we ' ll keep working with both sides in the Senate to make that happen . As for whether he ' ll send a direct message now that the issue has advanced , I can ' t speak for the President ' s private conversations with Congress . He ' s been in touch with them and will continue to be . The question about using military , financial , and diplomatic leverage on Netanyahu is not true . We have tried to influence Israel ' s actions and they have been receptive . We don ' t think an operation is imminent , and any operation at this time would be a disaster for the Palestinians in Rafah . We won ' t support an operation that doesn ' t prioritize their safety . As for the Jordan King ' s visit , I ' m not sure if the specific suspension of UNRWA funding will be discussed . That matter is closed for now . However , the President and the King will likely discuss the post - conflict situation in Gaza and how our Arab friends can help rebuild and give the Palestinian people a say in their future . It will start with a revitalized Palestinian Authority . You did mention that this isn ' t the end of the negotiation on the temporary ceasefire and you ' re optimistic . So does that mean that the President thinks Netanyahu ' s response , whether it ' s his actual position or just for show , is okay? I ' ll let the Prime Minister speak for himself . The President believes that this potential deal has a real chance of happening . He shares Secretary Blinken ' s optimism and thinks we can get there . The discussions are still ongoing , so it ' s not like either side just stopped talking . The President is hopeful that we can reach an agreement . He thinks it ' s possible . Q: Can you find out if the President was personally briefed? MS . JEAN - PIERRE: I know there ' s been a lot of focus on this . Let ' s take a step back and look at the bigger picture . The President was discussing the conversations he had with world leaders and highlighting the events of January 6 , 2021 . He emphasized the message it sent globally , the danger it posed to our democracy , and the importance of democracy itself . He often mentioned "America is back" during his trip to the G7 , and people asked him how long that would last . This story is meant to emphasize the significance of what we witnessed on January 6th and the importance of the United States ' leadership in the world . As someone with long - standing relationships with world leaders , it was unexpected for him to face such a situation . He talks about it to highlight the unprecedented nature of that moment and the motivations behind the Capitol attack . JEAN - PIERRE: So , um , I don ' t have anything for you right now . You should check with the Department of Justice or the White House Counsel for more details on your question . I just don ' t have anything to share at the moment . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Honestly , you can just reach out to them directly . They ' ve been pretty responsive . So , I would suggest contacting them specifically . Q: The President mentioned conversations with deceased European leaders . Can you explain why he referred to them and what happened there?So , like , I just really wanna make sure we understand why he was telling that story . And , you know , many people , like elected officials and stuff , they can sometimes misspeak . It happens to all of us , really . Let me give you some examples . Speaker Johnson said "Iran" instead of "Israel" and I ' ve called Joe from USA Today "Michael" before . It ' s just a thing that happens . Even Sean Hannity and Rick Scott have made similar mistakes . So , yeah , it ' s not uncommon . As for people ' s concerns about the President ' s age , I can ' t really speak to that in the context of the election . But I can say that he ' s had a successful three years , dealing with the economy , climate change , and COVID . He ' s experienced and knows how to bring people together and get things done . And that ' s why you see the economy , all the data shows and even experts and some of you have written about how the economy has bounced back , and a lot of that is because of what this president has done . So , yeah , his leadership , his experience , we believe speaks for itself . And I think that ' s what ' s important . And I hope the American people see that . Q If I can , just on the documents questions , just to try it . MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Yeah . Q The President did say last January that , when it comes to his handling of classified documents , "There is no there there . " Is that still the case? MS . JEAN - PIERRE: Well , I ' m not going to jump ahead of what is going to come out . I just want to be mindful here . I ' m just not going to speculate right now because we don ' t have any concrete information at this time . But I ' ll keep you updated .
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