NHK interview with John Kirby

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby talked with NHK in an exclusive interview on Friday on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. He mentioned the issues facing the leaders, including Ukraine, China and North Korea.

Kirby's comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Takagi Masaru: How important is Ukraine's expected counter-offensive against Russia in ending the war?

John Kirby: Well, the war could end today, there shouldn't be a need for a counter-offensive. Putin should just take his troops and get out of Ukraine because they don't belong there. Now, as the fighting, as the weather gets better, and it's already we're seeing spring in Ukraine, things are getting drier and more conducive to operations, and you're seeing that the Russians have put a lot of energy and a lot of manpower, particularly in that town of Bakhmut. And we have every expectation that the Russians are going to want to take the offensive in other parts of Ukraine along that 600 mile acres from the south all the way down, or all the way up to the Donbas and beyond.

And President Zelensky has said that he also wants the capability to go on the offense. Now where he does it, when he does it, how he does it, with how many troops, all of that's got to be up to him. He's the commander-in-chief, only he can decide what military operations he's going to conduct.

What we need to do, certainly in the United States, and I think you're going to hear from the G7 leaders as well, is continuing to support and make sure that he has the tools, the training, the capabilities, the weapon systems to be successful in whatever fighting he's going to do in the weeks and months ahead.

Now, you asked me how critical it is. We know that we're at an inflection point in the war in Ukraine here, and the weeks and months ahead are going to be critical and that's why it's so important for the G7 leaders to meet today. They're talking about Ukraine today as a matter of fact, and for them to get some additional perspectives from President Zelenskyy going forward.

Takagi: Also looking at the current state of the war in Ukraine, does the US think it is the time to send F16 fighter jets?

Kirby: I don't have any announcements on F16 fighter jets to speak to today. What I can tell you is that from the very beginning of this war, actually, before the war even started, the United States has been providing lethal capabilities and defensive capabilities so that Ukraine can defend itself against this Russian aggression. And as the war has evolved, so to have the capabilities that we have provided Ukraine.

You know, the first few weeks it was all about Javelins and anti-tank missiles and Stinger Air Defense Missiles. And now you know, we're talking about a Patriot Battery, and we're talking about Abrams tanks. The war has changed, and the capabilities have changed.

What also is critically important, and you're seeing this come out of the Ramstein group that Secretary Austin leads, is a need for all the nations that are supporting Ukraine to think about post-war and long-term because whenever this war ends, however, it ends, Ukraine is still going to have security needs. They're still going to have a long border with Russia. They're still going to need to be able to defend themselves. And so we are willing to continue to have those discussions with Ukraine going forward. And we'll see where this goes.

I don't have anything on fighter aircraft to speak to, I know that the Ukrainians have said that they want that, and I know some of our European allies and partners who said they're exploring some opportunities. Clearly, we respect all those decisions. But what we're focused on is making sure that in the short-term, Ukraine has what it needs in these critical weeks and months ahead, and that we are also working with Ukraine in thinking about their long-term needs.

Takagi: What's the significance of President Biden's visiting the Hiroshima Memorial Museum?

Kirby: It was important for the President and the First Lady to pay their respects to the lives that were lost in the atomic bomb, bombing of 1945. And he was grateful that he had the opportunity to lay a wreath. He was grateful that he had the opportunity to visit at least a part of the museum with the other G7 leaders where they actually got to hear from a survivor. He believes it was important to pay those respects.

But it's also important to remember that what's going on here in Hiroshima today is about tomorrow. It's about the future. It's about having these leaders really grasp on and latch on and make plans for some really critical agenda items that affect not just the other, the G7 nations, but nations all around the world.

Clean energy transition and climate change, economic development and investment in lower- and middle-income countries. The war in Ukraine as you and I have been talking about, and of course, the challenges posed by the PRC not just here in the region, but around the world. So, the focus here in Hiroshima is really much, very much on the future.

Takagi: Just switch over to the issue of China. So how does the Biden administration view of security in East Asia and the risk of the Taiwan contingency?

Kirby: So, I'd say first, that nothing has changed about US policy when it comes to Taiwan. We don't support Taiwan independence. We haven't moved or changed off our One China policy. And we don't want to see the status quo in the Straits changed unilaterally and we certainly don't want to see it changed by force.

We have commitments to assist with the self-defense capabilities for Taiwan. It's in law. It's got terrific, and has had over decades, bipartisan support. We're going to continue to provide self-defense capabilities to Taiwan in keeping with the Taiwan Relations Act and other founding documents, we're going to do that.

But there is no reason for the tensions in and around the Taiwan Strait to devolve into any kind of conflict. And this has been our message privately and has been our message publicly to the PRC.

Nothing's changed about the US policy. So there should be no reason for conflict to occur. So, we're going to continue to monitor this as best we can.

We know that these tensions are of concern to many of our allies and partners here in the region. That's why we believe it's very important for the United States as we have, as President Biden has to stay consistent in terms of what our policy is, and what we want to see, what we want to see as an end result, which is to say, no need for conflict, and every opportunity to take the tensions down.

Takagi: But the hotline between the two militaries is not working well right now.

Kirby: They're not working at all. Right now, the military-to-military channel has shut down because of the way the Chinese reacted to then-Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. And one of the things that President Biden wants to make sure is that we keep those lines of communication open, and we get the ones that are closed, like that one, back open again.

So just recently in Vienna, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had a chance to meet with his counterpart to try to keep those conversations going and look for ways that we can get this relationship back onto a better track, back to the spirit of Bali when President Xi and President Biden had a chance to meet back in Bali at the G20. And we're going to continue to do that. We want to see Secretary Blinken get back on an airplane and head over to Beijing like he was planning to do. We also are talking to the PRC about potential visits by Secretaries Yellen and Secretary, and Raimondo to talk about economic issues. So, the lines are open. We want to keep them open. We want to expand them. We want to deepen them. We certainly want to get the military-to-military channel open because that provides a measure of security.

When you have tensions that are high, the risks of miscalculation also become high. And so having military to military communication even at the staff level, is still important so you can avoid chances for misunderstanding and miscalculation that could lead to conflict.

We do not seek a conflict with the PRC. We do seek competition, and the President believes the United States is well positioned to win that competition. We don't seek conflict. And so having those channels back open would do a lot, would help a lot in terms of avoiding any kind of conflict.

Takagi: I'd like to switch to the question related to US-Japan-ROK trilateral relationship. Do you think there will be a possibility that the US-Japan-ROK leaders can reach an agreement to institutionalize the trilateral body on several fields including extended deterrence in the near future?

Kirby: First of all, let me just applaud Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon for incredible courage and leadership in improving their bilateral relations.

We know you know, history never leaves you. And history can be difficult to sometimes grapple with. They have grappled with it. And they have done a terrific job in terms of improving their bilateral relations. So, we're very grateful for that.

President Biden also has been very focused on improving our trilateral relationship, as you mentioned, and there may be an opportunity here in Hiroshima for the three leaders to get a chance to talk again, I don't know if that's going to happen. But there is a possibility that it could that, these are three leaders that stay in touch quite frequently as it is anyway. But there are lots of opportunities that we should and can take advantage of to improve our trilateral cooperation.

Now, largely when we talk about this, we talk about the security perspective. And these are Japan and the Republic of Korea, two modern capable militaries. And we noted and said so that it was significant that Prime Minister Kishida and Japan put forward a new national security strategy that really operationalizes and, and demonstrates Japan's commitment to want to be, to contribute to peace and security in the region.

It was a very noteworthy document, and it dovetails nicely with our own national security strategy. We also noted that President Yoon in Seoul put forward a new Indo-Pacific strategy which dovetails nicely with both those other documents.

So, there's an incredible opportunity here to improve our interoperability, our military capabilities, exercises, training operations, all to contribute to a sense of peace, security and prosperity in the region. And we're going to take every advantage that we can to advance that.

Takagi: North Korea has launched many ballistic missiles recently, regardless of condemnation from the international community. What is necessary to achieve a breakthrough in this stalemate?

Kirby: I'll tell you what's necessary is for Kim Jong Un to take the United States up on our offer to sit down without preconditions and let's negotiate for a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That's what's necessary. And that offer still stands by the way. They haven't taken us up on it. I got that's, that's Kim's choice.

But that's what we still are proposing, and we're still willing to sit down, again without preconditions, to talk about the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Now short of that, and obviously, as you rightly said in your question, he continues to test, he continues to launch, he continues to experiment, he continues to build an arsenal and nuclear capabilities.

And so short of him being willing to sit down and talk, we've got to do what we need to do to make sure that we can defend ourselves and our allies and our partners here in the region.

So, we have and you've heard us talk about this, we've added more capability here to the Indo-Pacific from a military perspective. We've improved our intelligence and collection gathering capability in and around the peninsula. We have gotten back to doing more visible, demonstrable and larger training events with the Republic of Korea.

And as you and I talked about recently, we've also improved not only our bilateral operations with Japan, but we've worked on trilateral cooperation now between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

So, short of negotiations, short of talking to him without preconditions, we are taking many, many steps to make sure that we are as ready as we possibly can be and our allies and partners are too, for the threats posed by the DPRK.

Aired on May 20, 2023