The following is a transcript of an interview with John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, March 26, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re back now with White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. Good to have you here. A lot to talk to- I want to start right where Senator Warner left off, does the White House want to share more information about these classified materials? He says it doesn’t pass the smell test.
COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, JOHN KIRBY: We’re fully cooperating with the Justice Department on the- on this ongoing investigation, Margaret, that’s got to be the focus, making sure that- that we preserve that process. And so that’s what we’re doing. And, you know, of course, at the appropriate time, and in an appropriate setting. We certainly understand the- the desire by members of Congress to know more, to see more, but we’ve got to make sure that we are full cooperation with the Justice Department on this right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: As for what Senator Warner was laying out there, on giving the White House the tools to make a call on TikTok, this has been going on for years now, the review of whether to allow it. If it’s a national security threat, doesn’t there need to be swift action rather than more debate?
KIRBY: Well, there’s an ongoing, as you know, and review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Three years now.
KIRBY: Ongoing review, it’s an independent review. We want to respect that process. But look, in the meantime, the President’s already said, we absolutely have national security concerns about that application, and he’s banned it from government devices. We don’t want to get ahead of this review. We have endorsed the RESTRICT Act, pending legislation. We’d love to see that passed by the Congress so that the President can have additional tools and authorities.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We showed a video on that last segment with the President on TikTok from a video shot by a celebrity inside the White House. So for the 150 million Americans who still use this app, how do you say to them, sorry, we’re gonna take it away?
KIRBY: It’s not on government–
MARGARET BRENNAN: It looks hypocritical- hypocritical.
KIRBY: It’s not on government devices, we do have legitimate national security concerns–
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s filmed on government property.
KIRBY: We have legit- legitimate national concern- security concerns over- over TikTok.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s a useful political platform.
KIRBY: I’ve just would tell you that, again, our concerns on the national security front are valid. We’ve banned it on all government devices. We got to get through this CFIUS review to see what the outcome is there before we- before we move ahead. In the meantime, again, the President welcomes congressional action on the RESTRICT Act.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll- we’ll see when it moves, and what- what the action will be, banned or for sale. Let’s take a break. I want to talk to you about Syria and Iran in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to “Face the Nation,” we return to our conversation with National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby. I want to ask you about what has been happening in Syria with these attacks on U.S. forces there. We had this deadly attack on Thursday by these Iran-aligned groups, a U.S. retaliation, and then three other known attacks on US positions. President Biden said he would act if U.S. troops were under fire. Is the U.S. going to retaliate?
KIRBY: We have acted with a- U.S. troops under fire–
MARGARET BRENNAN: On Thursday.
KIRBY: First of all condolences- our condolences to the family of the U.S. contractor, U.S. citizen, who was killed. That’s devastating news that no family wants to ever get. And we certainly grieve with them, and we’re obviously hoping for a speedy recovery for those who are still suffering from the wounds. But this was a- this was a serious attack by these militant groups. And the President retaliated swiftly and boldly, significantly, to deal with that. You’re right, there were some follow up response from–
MARGARET BRENNAN: At least three.
KIRBY: At least three, from these militant groups. Not a lot of damage caused, although one- one service member was injured. So we’re going to see where this goes. But the President in Ottawa made it very clear that we’re going to always act to defend our troops and our facilities. And here’s what’s not going to change, Margaret, the mission in ISIS is not going to change. We have under 1000 troops in Syria that are going after that network, which is, while greatly diminished, still viable, and still critical. So we’re going to stay at that task.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The President is committed to keeping those 900 or so troops in Syria.
KIRBY: That’s right. Absolutely.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The head of Central Command testified earlier in the week, there have been 78 attacks by Iran-backed groups against Americans since 2021. That was before these recent strikes. They don’t appear to be deterred by these verbal threats or even the retaliation.
KIRBY: That’s why again, the President acted so swiftly and boldly here in this particular case. And I certainly am not going to rule out the potential for additional U.S. action if the president deems it appropriate and necessary to continue to protect our troops and our facilities. We’re going to keep at that. And that message is sent loud and clear. Now, again, these are Iran-backed militant groups, that they’re going to have decisions that they’re going to have to make, they need to know. And we demonstrated here this week, that the United States will always act decisively to protect our people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But to cause American fatality, did this Iran- Iranian-backed group know that parts of the radar defense system were not fully operational at the time they carried out that drone attack?
KIRBY: We’ve seen no indication that they- that they had that kind of- that kind of knowledge. And in the past, on some of these other attacks, I mean, they have used similar capabilities to go after our troops and our facilities there in Syria. So there’s no indication that they would have had knowledge of that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia struck a deal with Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on his territories by July 1. And then by about April 3, he says they’re transferring ballistic missile systems and beginning training. Is he serious? Is this just more saber rattling?
KIRBY: We’ll just have to watch and see where this one goes, Margaret–
MARGARET BRENNAN: No movement so far.
KIRBY: We have not seen any indication that he’s made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around. We’ve in- in fact seen no indication that he has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine. Obviously, we would agree that no nuclear war should be fought, no nuclear war can be- can be won, clearly that would cross- cross a major threshold. I would also tell you that as we monitor this, and we monitor it every day, you have to, with the rhetoric coming out of Moscow, and with rhetoric that’s been coming out since the beginning of the war, that we’ve seen no- nothing that would cause us to change our own strategic deterrent posture.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why would he do this now?
KIRBY: You’d have to ask Mr. Putin. I can’t speak to that. I think in some of the Russian media reports they- they linked it to claims that the United Kingdom was going to provide depleted uranium rounds. There is no radioactive threat from depleted uranium rounds that are common on the battlefield. Even Russia uses similar rounds. So if that is in fact the justification, it’s a stake through a straw man, there’s- there’s no radioactivity concerns with that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Here in the United States, Taiwan’s president is scheduled to begin a visit later this week in New York and then next week out in California. Republican lawmakers will visit with her. Has the White House asked Democrats not to do so?
KIRBY: There’s been no request by the White House to Democrats not to- to meet with President Tsai. That- members of Congress have every right to manage their agenda and their meeting schedule as they see fit. I think it’s important to remember what this is, this is a transit, they’re normal, she’s done six before–
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s a long transit.
KIRBY: She’s done six before–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Tension with China has never been this high.
KIRBY: There we are. And look, we understand that. And the President has said clearly, he believes it’s important to keep the lines of communication with China open, he wants to have another conversation with President Xi, we’ll move in that direction. But these transits are normal, particularly for this particular president.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No date for that call with President Xi yet?
KIRBY: No date for that call.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you so much for joining us here. We’ll be right back.
KIRBY: My pleasure. You bet.