The following is a transcript of an interview with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby 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. Nice to have you here. To talk a lot—I want to pick up right where Senator Warner left off, is the White House willing to share more information about these classified materials? He says it doesn’t pass the smell test.
COORDINATOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, JOHN KIRBY: We’re cooperating fully with the Department of Justice—in this ongoing investigation, Margaret, that has to be the focus, making sure 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 desire of members of Congress to know more, to see more, but we need to make sure that we are fully cooperating with the Department of Justice right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What Senator Warner put out there, about giving the White House the tools to call TikTok, it’s been going on for a couple of years now, a review of whether to allow it. If this is a national security threat, isn’t there a need for swift action rather than further debate?
KIRBY: Well, there’s an ongoing, you know, and review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States–
Margaret Brennan: Three years now.
KIRBY: The ongoing review, it’s an independent review. We want to respect that process. But look, in the meantime, the president has already said, we have national security concerns about that app, and he’s banned it from government devices. We don’t want to get ahead of this review. We have approved restrictive legislation, pending legislation. We would like to see Congress pass something that would allow the President to have additional tools and authority.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We showed a video of 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 tell them, sorry, we’re taking it down?
KIRBY: It’s not on the government–
Margaret Brennan: It looks hypocritical.
KIRBY: It’s not a government device, we have legitimate national security concerns–
Margaret Brennan: It was filmed on government property.
KIRBY: We have legitimate national security concerns over TikTok.
Margaret Brennan: It’s a useful political platform.
KIRBY: I want to tell you that, again, our concerns on the national security front are valid. We have banned it on all official devices. We had to go through this CFIUS review to see what the outcome was before we could move forward. Meanwhile, again, the president welcomed Congressional action on restrictive legislation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll see—when it moves and what—what happens, 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 what is going on with this attack on US forces in Syria. We had this deadly attack by these Iran-linked groups on Thursday, a US retaliation and then three other known attacks on US positions. President Biden has said he will take action if US troops are attacked. Is the United States going to retaliate?
KIRBY: We worked with a– the U.S. military–
Margaret Brennan: Thursday.
KIRBY: First of all, condolences — our condolences to the family of the American contractor, the American citizen who was killed. This is devastating news that no family wants to receive. And we certainly grieve with them, and we obviously hope for a speedy recovery for those still suffering from wounds. But this was a—a serious attack by these militant groups. And the president has retaliated swiftly and boldly, notably, to counter it. You’re right, there were some follow-up responses from–
Margaret Brennan: At least three.
Kirby: At least three from this militant group. There was not much damage, although one service member was injured. So we’re going to see where this goes. But the president made it very clear in Ottawa that we are always going to work to protect our troops and our facilities. And here’s what won’t change, Margaret, the mission of ISIS won’t change. We have less than 1,000 troops in Syria following that network, which, although greatly reduced, is still effective and still critical. So we’re going to stay on 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 that there have been 78 attacks by Iran-backed groups against Americans since 2021. That was before this latest attack. They do not appear to be deterred by these verbal threats or even retaliation.
KIRBY: That’s why, again, the president has acted so quickly and boldly here in this particular case. And I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of additional U.S. action if the president deems it appropriate and necessary to protect our troops and our facilities. We’re going to keep that. And that message is sent loud and clear. Now, again, these are Iranian-backed militant groups, they need to know that they’re going to make decisions that they have to make. And as we demonstrated here this week, the United States will always act decisively to protect our people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But for the loss of American lives, did these Iranian-Iranian-backed groups know that parts of the radar defense system were not fully operational when they launched the drone strike?
Kirby: We’ve seen no indication that they—that they had that kind of knowledge. And in the past, in some of these other attacks, I mean, they’ve used similar capabilities to go after our troops and our installations in Syria. So there is no indication that they had that knowledge.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia has reached an agreement with Belarus to deploy strategic nuclear weapons on its territory by July 1. And then by about April 3, he says they’re moving ballistic missile systems and starting training. Is he serious? Is it just more saber rattling?
Kirby: We’ll just have to watch and see where it goes, Margaret-
Margaret Brennan: No movement so far.
KIRBY: We’ve seen no indication that he’s kept that promise or moved any nuclear weapons around. We have seen no indication that there is any intention to actually use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine. Obviously, we would agree that no nuclear war should be fought, no nuclear war could be won, obviously that would be a big overstepping point. I will also tell you that as we monitor this, and we monitor it every day, you have to deal with the rhetoric coming out of Moscow and the rhetoric coming out of the beginning of the war, which we have not seen. – Nothing that can change our own strategic deterrence posture.
Margaret Brennan: Why would he do it now?
Kirby: You’d have to ask Mr. Putin. I can’t talk about that. I think in some of the reports in the Russian media they—they claimed it was that the UK was going to supply depleted uranium rounds. There is no radioactive threat from depleted uranium rounds that are common on the battlefield. Even Russia uses the same round. So if it’s actually justified, it’s a bet through a straw man, there’s—there’s no radioactivity concern with that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Here in the United States, the president of Taiwan is scheduled to begin his visit to New York later this week and then to California next week. Republican lawmakers will meet with him. Did the White House tell the Democrats not to do that?
KIRBY: There has been no request from the White House for Democrats not to meet with President Tsai. Members of Congress have the right to manage their agenda and schedule their meetings as they see fit. I think it’s important to remember, it’s a transit, they’re normal, he’s done six before–
Margaret Brennan: It’s a long transit.
Kirby: He’s done six before–
Margaret Brennan: Tensions with China have never been higher.
Kirby: We are. And look, we understand that. And the president has clearly said, he believes it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with China, he wants to have another conversation with President Xi, that’s where we’ll go. But this transit is normal, especially for this particular president.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No date yet for that call with President Xi?
Kirby: There’s no date on that call.
Margaret Brennan: Thank you very much for joining us here. We’ll be right back.
Kirby: My pleasure. You bet.