Accessibility links

Breaking News

VOA Interview: John Kirby

VOA Interview: John Kirby
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:12:02 0:00

VOA Persian's Farhad Pouladi speaks with U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

VOA Persian Service correspondent Farhad Pouladi spoke with U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby about Iranian protests and the stalled diplomatic process on the Iran nuclear deal, the latest on the war in Ukraine, and the Biden administration's plan to deal with Saudi Arabia following the decision by OPEC+ to cut oil production targets.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

VOA: President Joe Biden maintains that diplomacy is still a viable option in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. There have been many critics of that approach, especially in the Iranian opposition, whether inside or outside Iran, and they are demanding that negotiations be stopped and that maximum pressure be resumed or amplified. Does the U.S. believe Iran still has the legitimacy to pursue diplomacy with?

John Kirby: Oh, there is no diplomacy right now underway with respect to the Iran deal. We are at an impasse right now, and we're not focused on that. Yes, the president still believes that it's really important that Iran not achieve nuclear weapons capability. And yes, the president would prefer to do that through diplomacy. But right now, that diplomacy is not moving forward. We are too far apart to be close to a deal here with Iran. They have made some irresponsible demands that are way beyond the scope or the limit of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the Iran nuclear pact]. So that's not a focus right now. What is a focus is making clear that we're going to continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for the way that it's been treating its citizens, citizens who are trying to peacefully protest and to make their voices clear. And we have done that in the past with sanctions; we'll do that going forward. But that's the focus.

VOA: On Wednesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan at Georgetown University noted the Biden administration's steps in support of the Iranians, like exerting sanctions and the waiver for the internet. He said this, and I'm quoting him, “That does not mean we can stop every bullet or hold back every baton.” However, people are dying in the streets in Tehran. Isn't it time for the U.S. to do more?

Kirby: The United States will continue to look at our options going forward to hold the Iranian regime accountable. We've done it in the past, in just the last week or so, and we'll continue to look at options going forward. And we'll work with allies and partners both in the region and outside the region to continue to do that.

VOA: Does the administration have any plan to meet with the Iranian opposition leaders or opposition?

Kirby: I don’t have anything on the schedule to speak to.

VOA: Is the U.S. offering any particular help for Ukraine to combat Iranian drones besides sanctioning the Iranian drone industry?

Kirby: We have been providing the Ukrainian military a full range of capabilities to help better defend themselves. We knew that these drones were going to be introduced onto the battlefield when we said publicly that the Russians were going to Tehran to buy them. It remains to be seen how much of a factor they are, but clearly, they have lethal capabilities. And so, one of the things that the president spoke about with [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy was additional air defense capabilities. And you just saw in Brussels this week, Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin holding yet another contact group, and out of that contact group meeting, some nations like Germany and Spain agreed to provide some additional air defense capabilities. And we'll take a look as well, and if there's things that we can do to improve Ukrainian air defense, we'll do that.

VOA: Have there been any decisions or timelines for any decisions on whether and if the U.S. will confront Saudi Arabia with their OPEC+ decision to cut oil production?

Kirby: The president has asked us as a team to review this bilateral relationship, and to see what we need to do to make sure that that bilateral relationship going forward serves our interests. So, he wants a comprehensive look at this. He also wants time to talk to members of Congress, not all of whom are in town right now. So, as Mr. Sullivan said just a few days ago, the work of reviewing this bilateral relationship is ongoing now, here, on the National Security Council and in the staff. And we will broaden that conversation out over coming days and weeks to include members of Congress. The president wants to make sure that he takes advantage of a full range of views and perspectives and options.

VOA: Who will be the point person and what is the timeframe?

Kirby: It's not about having a single point person, and it's not like a formal review process where there'll be some sort of master document produced at the end. The president wants his team to look at how we should recalibrate this relationship. He also wants to take in the views of members of Congress, and we'll do that.

VOA: On Ukraine — some American experts say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using recent escalation and the nuclear threat just to intimidate and push Ukraine to negotiations. Do you think Putin is escalating out of weakness, and how confident are you that the European leaders won’t crack under pressure and press Ukraine to negotiate?

Kirby: Well, what I will tell you is that the actions Mr. Putin is taking clearly are not the actions of a confident leader, of a leader who feels certainty about the way this war is being prosecuted. It is brutal. It's bloody. It's ugly. And as the [U.S.] president has said, it has included war crimes and atrocities. He [Putin] is deliberately going after civilian targets and trying to kill the Ukrainian people, let alone their soldiers, to instill fear into them. He's having the opposite effect. He has helped unite NATO. He has stiffened the resolve of the international community, and he absolutely has not put fear into the hearts of the Ukrainian people. You could see them singing after the weekend attacks in the subways and they were out in the streets. They are brave. They are skillful. They are resolute. And the United States, with our allies and partners around the world, is going to continue to provide security assistance to their armed forces and their abilities to defend themselves. And we have seen nothing — and in Brussels this week, the Contact Group is a great example — we've seen nothing but unified resolve by our allies and partners. Not just in Europe [but in] countries around the world, [allies doing] what they can and making their own decisions to support Ukraine and that continues.

VOA: Do you see any indications that Belarusian troops might join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine from the north, and how seriously might their participation impact dynamics on the battlefield and the ability of Ukrainian forces to defend themselves?

Kirby: We haven't seen indications that Belarusian troops are preparing to go in or will go in. We'll obviously watch this as best we can. So, I don't want to get ahead of where we are in terms of speculation about what that could mean. Clearly, any additional troops that are going to be commanded by Russian leaders inside Ukraine is obviously something to be concerned about, but we're just not there yet.

VOA: Have you seen any movement regarding Putin’s threats to use tactical nuclear weapons?

Kirby: We're monitoring as best we can. We have not seen any indication that Mr. Putin has made a decision to use weapons of mass destruction, or nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise. We haven't seen any indications by his military forces that they're preparing for such a use. And I would just add that we see nothing that would give us reason to change our own strategic deterrent posture.

VOA: Before the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress meeting, some protesters hung banners calling for the impeachment of Xi Jinping. Now, related online posts are censored on Chinese internet. What is the White House take on possible political change in Beijing and the censorship of China’s citizens?

Kirby: We continue, as we have all around the world, to make clear that we believe in the basic right of peaceful protest and that the people around the world, no matter where they live, no matter under what government ... they subsist, should have the right to peacefully protest and to make their voices heard without fear of retribution or violence in return.

VOA: The White House’s new national security strategy lists China as the biggest challenge to the world order, even with Russia invading Ukraine. China just responded that this is Cold War thinking. Your take?

Kirby: I think Mr. Sullivan was very clear when he laid out the National Security Strategy this week. This is not about a new Cold War. It's not even about the old Cold War. It's about making sure that we have the capabilities, the resources and the strategy to be able to defend our interests around the world. And in the end, the National Security Strategy makes it clear that China is a predominant challenge right now: a nation … like Russia [that wants] to disrupt the international world order, but unlike Russia actually has the means to affect that outcome over coming years. And that's why we're going to stay laser-focused on the challenges that Beijing presents to the rest of the world. As we've said many times, competition — and this is an era of strategic competition — does not have to mean conflict.

VOA: We're approaching the midterm elections. What are you seeing in the cyberspace when it comes to the attacks on the midterm elections? Russia, Iran, North Korea, or some other malign actors?

Kirby: All I'll tell you is that we constantly monitor our cyber infrastructure and review our ability to be resilient in cyberspace. And we're constantly working at that. I'm not going to speculate about the upcoming midterm elections. All I can say is that this is an ongoing, iterative process across the government, across the interagency, to constantly review our cyber defenses and our health and vitality inside the cyber realm. We're constantly working to improve that — to improve that capability. And we'll do that going forward, certainly, into the fall.