John Kirby vows White House will not hold talks with Russia without Ukraine at the table
National Security Council top communications officer John Kirby said the White House will not hold talks with Russia about the war in Ukraine without a representative from Kiev at the table.
It comes amid reports that former US national security officials are holding secret talks with Moscow in an effort to pave the way for diplomatic talks about ending the war.
Kirby stressed during an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday that national security adviser Jake Sullivan was not involved in the meetings, but “generally” knew there were discussions going on behind the scenes.
‘Mr. Sullivan was not involved. We didn’t participate in that,” said the NSC strategic communications coordinator. “These were private entities, private individuals meeting with Russian officials, certainly within their right to do so.”
“I don’t know how much inside information he had about this, but it wasn’t that the United States or the government was involved in any way,” Kirby assured.
He also said he “understands” the “fear” over the talks, but wanted to assure Ukraine that the US is not leading the discussion.
Joe Biden’s administration is aware of talks aimed at ending the Eastern European conflict, but talks are not progressing in the direction of the president or his team, Kirby confirmed after reports.
NSC strategic communications coordinator John Kirby assured Ukrainians on Sunday that talks between US officials and Russia will not take place without Kiev also sitting at the table
Comes on the heels of reports that former US national security officials are holding secret talks with Russian officials – including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – to pave the way for a diplomatic end to the war with Ukraine
“In general, we were aware that there was discussion on a private level,” Kirby admitted. “But we didn’t forward any messages through them. We weren’t setting the stage for them. We have not encouraged or in any way fueled those discussions.’
He further assured, “The president is making it clear that we will not have talks with Russia about negotiating an end to this war without Ukraine at the table.”
Officials reveal that the discussions fall under what’s known as “Track Two diplomacy,” which are unofficial conversations involving private individuals — not those currently serving in government positions.
In at least one conversation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with former US and current US officials.
At that April meeting, current and former officials told NBC News, Lavrov met with former diplomat and outgoing chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass. He also sat down with Europe expert Charles Kupchan and Russia expert Thomas Graham — both former White House and State Department officials who served as fellows on the Council on Foreign Relations.
“We’ve been clear, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Kirby said in an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, adding that he understands Ukrainians may feel “fear” about reported conversations
These were private conversations. And the United States government was not involved in any way,” Kirby told ABC’s Martha Raddatz when she pressed for Ukrainian officials to be kept informed of the talks.
“I can’t say to what extent Ukrainian officials knew they were going ahead or not,” he said. “These were private conversations not authorized by the United States government.”
“But again, we’ve been clear, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
The war in Eastern Europe started in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Since then, the US and the rest of the world have provided billions in ammunition and weapons to help Ukraine resist the Russian dictatorship.
The meetings are intended to lay the groundwork for future negotiations to end the nearly year-and-a-half of war.
On the agenda of the several-hour April meeting in New York were some of the most sensitive issues for Russia, including the future of territory in Ukraine currently held by Russia that may never be liberated and a diplomatic turn to the ongoing violence.
Conversations with Lavrov included former diplomat and outgoing chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass (top center) and Europe expert Charles Kupchan (bottom right) and Russia expert Thomas Graham (bottom left) – both former White House and State Department officials serving as fellows in the Council on Foreign Relations.
Asked if talks between private citizens and the Russian government are “helpful,” Kirby said it’s “not unusual.”
“You can hardly blame it [Ukrainian officials] because he is concerned about possible negotiations or discussions with the Russians about ending the war they are not involved in, which again is why the president has been adamant. Nothing is said about Ukraine or about ending this war without Ukraine at the table,” Kirby repeated.
So I can understand the fear and concern about this. But again, I want to assure you that the United States government was not behind these talks.”