2022-10-22 21:17:03 By : shen qinmei

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DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Okay. I just have a very brief top statement, and then I'd be happy to jump in and take your questions.

So good morning, everyone. I don't have too much at the top today, but as you saw this morning, the Secretary spoke with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov to reiterate the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine's ability to counter Russia's aggression. The two leaders pledged to remain in close contact, and a full readout is available on defense.gov.

Separately, the Secretary also spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu earlier this morning to emphasize the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine, and again, the readout is posted on defense.gov.

And finally, yesterday, the Army kicked off Project Convergence 2022. Project Convergence is an all-service experiment that includes Special Operations Forces and participation by our U.K. and Australian partners. It will evaluate approximately 300 technologies, including long-range fires, unmanned aerial systems, autonomous fighting vehicles and next-generation sensors, and will focus on advancing joint and multinational interoperability in future environments.

And with that, I will take your questions. I'm going to start off on the phones. First, we'll go to Lita, A.P.

Question on the Secretary's calls. It -- as we all know, I think, the last time he spoke with Shoygu was, like, in May, and we had been told since then that there had been efforts by the Pentagon to reach out, but that no response from the Russians. Can you give us a better sense of how this transpired? Did the Russians suddenly reach out? Was this pushed again by the Pentagon? And does this suggest any thoughts by the Russians that they're doing badly, and maybe they're trying to reach out to get some concessions or -- in any way? Can you just give us a better sense of the timing of this? And I know you don't want to talk about the private contents of the call, but just a bit more context on it.

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Lita, for the question.

You know, I'm not going to be able to go too far beyond the readout that we put out, but today provided a good opportunity to connect. As part of the Secretary's responsibilities, he is frequently in touch with a variety of defense leaders, and so today provided a good opportunity to connect with the the minister of defense, Shoygu.

I can go to the room. Yeah?

Q: Follow-up on this: Who initiated the call? Was it Secretary Austin, or Shoygu?

MS. SINGH: The Secretary. Secretary Austin initiated the call.

Q: And then how long it took? Do you know?

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into more specifics other than what we provided in our readout.

Q: Was it a specific reason for Secretary to initiate this call now, not two weeks ago, not two weeks later?

MS. SINGH: Today just provided the -- a good opportunity, the right opportunity for this call to happen, you know, amidst an ongoing war. This was the day that provided the best opportunity to connect.

Q: Did the Secretary explicitly mention Russian (inaudible) of nuclear weapons, and warned him against any type of their use?

MS. SINGH: So as you saw, the readout that was put out earlier this morning -- and it's also on defense.gov -- I'm not going to get into more specifics of the call. But what the Secretary emphasized was the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war, and that's all I'll -- that's all I'll say on that.

Yeah? Can I go to anyone else, or go back to the phones? Going back to the phones, Mike Gordon, Wall Street Journal? Okay. Okay, no problem. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Okay, can you talk to that --

Q: Can you hear me now?

Q: This is Michael Gordon. Can I get my question in now? Hello?

Q: I defer to Michael. I apologize.

Q: Sorry, I didn't get unmuted. I'll be quick. Last week, General Milley stressed the importance of providing Ukraine with an integrated air defense, and we see the -- every day, the need for that. We already know that two NASAMS are supposed to come in the next couple months, and six more in the next 18 months. We know about the German IRIS system. What's -- my question is, what specific new additional steps is DOD taking to expedite the provision of air defense to Ukraine? And when do you -- when will DOD be able to make good on General Milley's commitment to provide an integrated air defense to Ukraine? Do you have a timeline on that? 

MS. SINGH: So thanks for the question.

As you know, just last week, the Secretary and General Milley were in Brussels, meeting with the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group. Part of their discussions is what more can be provided to Ukraine, when it comes to their defense systems? And you, of course, mentioned the German air defense system that was already provided.

But just to take a step back, I mean, we have transferred already 1,400 Stinger anti-air systems to Ukraine. We are -- working with our allies and partners, which includes Slovakia's transfer of the S-300 system that was, I believe, delivered back in April.

So while I don't have another PDA or additional security assistance to -- any additional packages to announce today, we have provided these systems in the past. And part of the Secretary's ongoing dialogues with the Ukrainians and our -- and General Milley's counterpart as well is to assess what the Ukrainians need on a daily basis on the battlefield.

So with that, I will go to Jeff Schogol, who I think was asking a question.

Q: Thank you very much.

Does the Defense Department have any evidence that suggests that Elon Musk is a Russian asset or perhaps ideologically aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

MS. SINGH: I have nothing to provide on that front. I will go to the next question. I can take it back to the room. Yes? Hi.

Q: So on Starlink --

Q: -- can you talk about any national security review that's ongoing, as was reported by another news service earlier today?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I saw the reporting. I have nothing additional to provide. I would direct you -- you know, back to -- I think the State Department was cited there. I would direct you to the State Department on that.

Q: And you don't have anything to preview on a security assistance for Ukraine? Can you tell us if it's going to be a presidential drawdown authority that comes next or a USAI that comes next?

MS. SINGH: So I wouldn't -- I'm not going to get ahead of any decisions that haven't been made, but certainly when we have a package or additional security assistance to announce, I will certainly let you know.

Q: I want to ask you about defense cooperation with Japan and Australia. The Japanese Prime Minister Kishida arrived in Australia today and they are expected to release a new bilateral security declaration. So could you tell us how the closer defense cooperation between Australia and Japan will benefit the United States, particularly in terms of competing with China?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, thank you for the question.

You know, these are some of our strongest allies and we always welcome defense cooperation within the Indo-Pacific, but in terms of their dialogue and their conversations, I would direct you back to Australia and Japan for further comment.

Why don't we go back to the phones? Alex Horton, Washington Post?

Q: Yeah, thanks for taking my call.

So I want to get back to the air defense question. You know, we've heard from Pat and other folks who have mentioned, you know, previous support but, you know, today is today and, you know, the air defense is -- sounds like it's priority number one for Kyiv.

So what's stopping the U.S. from sending any stuff through the PDA to get stuff faster than the USAI drawdown, which is going to take a long time for the -- for that to reach them? Why isn't there another kind of push for urgency to get more systems to their lines quicker?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Alex, for the question.

So again, you know, on just last week, we announced an additional PDA and the Secretary had just concluded his trip in Brussels, where he met with additional defense ministers and 50 other countries that participated in the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group.

Again, it -- this is not just a effort that the United States is participating in. We are partnering with our allies and partners -- again, the 50 countries that are part of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group -- to arm and to get Ukraine the systems and the capabilities that they need on the battlefield.

Germany's delivery of the IRIS-T system, that was a critical donation that came out of conversations that happened at the defense group. Spain announced that it will provide four HAWK launches to strengthen Ukraine's air defense. Norway, Germany and Denmark have all invested in production of howitzers. Again, this is -- you know, this is not just an effort that is -- that the United States is working on, in terms of getting Ukraine what they need.

In terms of more -- in terms of more air defenses, I don't have -- as it was asked earlier, I don't have another package to preview at this time, but as you know -- and the Secretary was in touch with Minister of Defense Reznikov earlier today -- we -- he is in frequent touch with his Ukrainian counterpart, and when I have more to provide in terms of another package, I will certainly do that.

So thank you for the question.

I can come back into the room -- yeah, go ahead.

Q: There's a statement today from the head of the Iranian Navy that referred to incidents involving saildrones. It appeared that the -- that he was referring to what happened previously but I just wondered if -- make sure that there was no other new kind of incident in which they tried to take some of these drones.

MS. SINGH: You know, I'm sorry, I think I -- when I was walking to the room, I saw a brief mention of that but I don't have more to provide at this time. I'm happy to circle back with you. Yeah.

Q: On the air defense questions, you mentioned Slovakia and S300s, and some other allies are also inclined to provide Soviet-made -- Soviet (inaudible) like products, air defense systems, but the question is how are you coping with the ammunitions for those systems? Like, for example, S300s can be very effective but I -- is there, for example, ammunitions for --

MS. SINGH: We are, again, you know, working with our partners and our allies in -- across the world to provide these ammunitions to Ukraine. I don't have more for you on that. I mean, that's what the Ukrainian Contact Group is for, and the armaments group met before -- a week and a half before the Ukraine's Contact Group, so that is what these convenings are exactly. The -- the point of these is to see who can provide Ukraine with the ammunition or whatever systems it might be in the fight that they are in right now.

I want to just go back to the -- go ahead, ask one more question, then I'll go ahead and --

Q: So we heard you saying (inaudible) several other officials -- as Ukrainians as well -- so you -- the Ukrainians are saying that -- "here is our needs" and you guys are saying "Okay, we know everything -- those needs because we are closely contacted with you guys and we know what their needs are."

The question is, like, the -- one of our colleagues at -- why wouldn't the United States provide one of the systems in its inventory?

MS. SINGH: Again, I will say that we are -- I mean, the Secretary, just this morning, spoke with Minister Reznikov. We have frequent communication -- it's not just at the Secretary's level. It is at other levels within this building and other agencies that have communication with the Ukrainians, and we are working with them to assess what they need on the battlefield.

We understand that they have requests but with the -- with what we have given them, we have seen them make significant gains in Ukraine. And so, you know, we feel confident that what we are providing is helping them change the dynamics on the battlefield.

Mike, I saw that you have a question here but you're in the room, so yeah.

Q: I know you put out the readout of the discussions the Secretary -- or phone calls he had with the Minister from Russia and Ukraine. Can you tell me which one -- who was first? And can you talk about what the -- I know you're not going to talk about specifics--

Q: -- but can you say if they did talk about -- if -- you know, I mean, (inaudible) -- if they talked about the specific items he's looking for?

MS. SINGH: So again, I'm not going to get ahead of the readouts, but as it was -- as Kasim asked earlier, the Secretary is in touch with Minister Reznikov on a range of issues, and one of those is assessing what the Ukrainians need on the battlefield. And so I'm not going to get into more specifics of their call, but that's something that they have touched on, of course, in a variety of different calls before.

And then your question on, in terms of timing and scheduling, I'm not going to read out the Secretary's schedule and when things happen. I will just tell you that the calls both just happened this morning, and we provided a readout, and they're also online, as well.

I'm going to go back to the phones, and then happy to come back into the room. Phil with Reuters?

I was also going to ask about the calls, because I was curious whether the Ukrainians are getting any kind of insight into what Secretary Austin might be learning from his Russian counterpart. But assuming that -- if you can answer that would be great, but otherwise, in the statement it talked about the importance of maintaining lines of communication. Just wondering, is Secretary Austin satisfied with the lines of communication that exists right now? And if not -- and could you please explain to us what lines of communication currently are -- exists in that functioning?

MS. SINGH: Sure. Thanks, Phil, for the question.

In terms of -- in terms of, I think, your first question on just, I think, what Mike had asked, again, not going to provide more details on the Secretary's schedule and exactly when calls happened. They both happened this morning.

In terms of maintaining the lines of communication, today provided an opportunity to connect. It was something that the Secretary initiated. It was an opportunity to have a call with Minister Shoygu. We welcome the -- maintaining an open line of communication. You know, dialogue is good here, and so that's, I think, all I have to say about that. I have nothing more provide beyond the readout.

And I'm sorry. You did have a third question, and I missed the third one.

Q: No, I mean, it was -- that was basically my question. It -- -- can you at least say whether or not Secretary Austin has brought up in private the kinds of concerns that he has raised publicly, you know, whether on a variety of subjects regarding the war in Ukraine?

MS. SINGH: Well, I -- you know, the Secretary has been very vocal about the war and the United States' commitment to continuing to provide Ukraine with what it needs in this war. I'm not going to get beyond the readout. The Secretary just wanted to reiterate that maintaining an -- a line of communication is important, and the -- I'll let the readout stand for itself.

Q: So the Secretary called his Russian counterpart. Does that open the gates for the Chairman speaking with his Russian counterpart? And General Cavoli in EUCOM/NATO speaking with Gerasimov also?

MS. SINGH: Well, we certainly have different ways and different levels of communications. But I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I would, you know, direct you to EUCOM or the chairman's team for that -- for any further questions you have.

I can go back to the phones, or did you have -- yeah, go ahead.

Q: Thanks. Anton La Guardia from The Economist.

Have you -- do you have any update of what's happening down in the Kherson region,  particularly President Zelenskyy's assertion that the Russians have mined one of the dams in the Dnieper River?

MS. SINGH: I've seen -- I saw President Zelenskyy's comments last night. I don't have anything further to add at this time.

In terms of what we are seeing on the ground, I mean, we are seeing the Ukrainians make progress on their counter-offensive in the north and the south but we're also seeing the Russians are pushing hard, we're seeing heavy fighting in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainians are continuing with their counter-offensive.

And, I mean, I think there was reporting last week about towns switching hands, and that's what we continue to see. It's a changing and it's a -- it's certainly a dynamic battlefield that is -- and it's ongoing, but right now, I think that's all I could provide on their counter-offensive.

Q: Just a follow-up on that?

Q: Have you seen any change in Russia's nuclear posture?

MS. SINGH: We have not.

I'm going to go back to the phone. Tom with Talk Radio?

Q: Hi, Sabrina. Good morning. Thank you.

My question regards the readout of -- the information you gave (inaudible) supplied to Ukraine. We have specifics in the armaments and then we also say winter equipment. Could you be more specific -- and I understand if you can -- have to take this question -- could you be more specific about what kind of winter supplies the United States is providing to the Ukraine military? Is it blankets, boots, et cetera?

Thanks a lot. I'd appreciate it if you could get back to us on that.

MS. SINGH: Sure. I can -- I know that, in part of our drawdown packages, we did provide winter equipment, which included parkas and other winter gear that would be helpful for Ukrainian soldiers. I do have something more that I can provide but it's just not in front of me so I'm happy to circle up with you after this and just send you that.

Q: That would be -- that would be really, really helpful. Thank you very much.

MS. SINGH: -- from the phones and then I'll bring it back here to the room if anyone else has anything further. Jared, are you with us, with Al-Monitor?

Q: Yes, ma'am. Thanks for doing this, I really appreciate it. Just wondering, regarding these Iranian technical advisors and military trainers in Crimea that were discussed yesterday, just wondering if you can confirm or clarify whether these are regular Iranian military, are they contractors, are they IRGC?

And then secondly, the administration has been saying, you know, that these attacks on Kyiv were obviously designed to instill terror in the Ukrainian population. Have the Russians cued any members of the department into any further demands that they may have in these communications since these attacks this week?

MS. SINGH: I'll take the first question first. In terms of specifics on Iranians on the ground in Russia, I've nothing more to provide. I think General Ryder yesterday at the podium spoke to that and I would just direct you to his comments but -- but nothing more to -- provide on that front.

On -- can you repeat your second question? I'm sorry, I just want to make sure I understood you correctly.

Q: Yes, I'm just wondering if the Russians have indicated any further demands in communications with department officials about this situation in Ukraine and U.S. support for the Ukrainians since these attacks in Kyiv this week?

MS. SINGH: -- speak for other departments, I can only speak for the Secretary and the Department of Defense. And again, we've provided a readout of the Secretary's conversation with Minister Shoygu and I would just direct you to other agencies if -- if you have further questions.

Great. Happy to come back to the room if there are any other questions. No? Wow, short briefing. Okay, well, I mean, happy Friday, everyone. Thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it. I'm going to have to run after this but if anyone -- I will follow up offline, with all of you on some of the cold weather gear that I was asked about.

But thanks, all. Really appreciate it. Happy Friday.

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