National security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the administration has privately communicated to communist China that there will be consequences if they provide weapons for Russia to use in its war against Ukraine. During the interview, Sullivan also downplayed a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded that the COVID pandemic likely originated in a Chinese lab.
Sullivan made the remarks during a Sunday interview with CNN co-host Dana Bash on the network's "State of the Union."
"We will continue to send a strong message that we believe that sending military aid to Russia at this time, when they are using their weapons to bombard cities, kill civilians and commit atrocities, would be a bad mistake, and China should want no part of it," he said.
Sullivan claimed that President Joe Biden has "clearly and specifically behind closed doors" told China what the consequences will be if they supply the Russians with weapons.
Sullivan was also asked about a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that said that a classified intelligence report from the Department of Energy concluded that COVID likely came from a Chinese lab leak.
"Did the coronavirus pandemic start in a lab?" she asked. "Is that what you believe now?"
"One of the things in that 'Wall Street Journal' report which I can't confirm or deny, but I will say the reference to the Department of Energy, President Biden specifically requested that the National Labs, which are part of the Department of Energy, be brought into this assessment because he wants to put every tool at use to be able to figure out what happened here," he responded. "And if we gain any further insight or information, we will share it with Congress and we will share it with the American people. But, right now, there is not a definitive answer that has emerged from the intelligence community on this question."
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Joining me now is President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Director of the CIA Bill Burns says he is confident that China is considering giving lethal aid to Russia. How soon do you believe China could actually start providing that assistance?
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, first, thanks for having me on, Dana.
The other thing that Director Burns, Bill Burns at the CIA, said was that we haven't seen them do it yet. We actually haven't seen them take a final decision to provide the aid to Russia. And we haven't seen the aid be provided to Russia.
So, we will watch carefully, we will be vigilant, and we will continue to send a strong message that we believe that sending military aid to Russia at this time, when they are using their weapons to bombard cities, kill civilians and commit atrocities, would be a bad mistake, and China should want no part of it.
BASH: If China does go ahead and give the lethal support that your intelligence shows they're considering giving to Russia, can you please be specific about how the U.S. would respond?
SULLIVAN: Well, again, you're talking about a hypothetical situation, because, at present, China has not moved forward, as far as we can discern. We have not seeing them do it.
And I would prefer to keep our messages to China on this question, what the consequences would be, in the private high-level diplomatic channels that we have established to discuss these issues. Secretary Blinken saw China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, just a few days ago in Munich. They had a detailed conversation the subject.
Secretary Blinken laid out the U.S. position in perspective. And I'm going to leave that important and grave set of conversations around the stakes of China coming in behind Russia in their war in Ukraine for behind closed doors.
BASH: Yes, so, just to be clear, you don't want to say it now on international television, but the consequences if, in fact, China, does this have been very directly and specifically communicated to China privately?
SULLIVAN: President Biden has made clear in previous reflections on this issue, because this is not a new issue. We have been dealing with the question of whether China might provide military aid to Russia going back to the beginning of the conflict.
BASH: Right, but you said that Secretary Blinken made clear...
The point I was making, Dana, is just that President Biden has said previously, we're not just making direct threats. We're just laying out both the stakes and the consequences, how things would unfold.
BASH: I see.
SULLIVAN: And we are doing that clearly and specifically behind closed doors.
BASH: How concerned - just kind of look at this big picture. How concerned are you about these two major U.S. adversaries working together on the battlefield in Ukraine and what that means sort of more generally about the relationships here?
SULLIVAN: Well, look, the U.S. position in this conflict is straightforward.
We're not going to stand by and allow one country to roll over another country and try to wipe it off the map. And we're going to build and have built a coalition of more than 50 nations to resist that and help the Ukrainians defend their own territory.
China's position in this is much more awkward. In fact, there was just a vote at the U.N. General Assembly in which China abstained. They did not vote with Russia. They were one of a number of countries that just tried to stand on the sidelines. When China talks rhetorically about the war in Ukraine, they tie themselves into knots, because they know that going all in with Russia in this war in Ukraine would alienate a substantial number of countries that they are working hard to maintain good relations with.
So, from our perspective, actually, this war presents real complications for Beijing. And Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it proceeds, whether it provides military assistance. But, if it goes down that road, it will come at real costs to China. And I think China's leaders are weighing that as they make their decisions.
BASH: President Zelenskyy is still asking the U.S. for F-16 fighter jets, but President Biden said on Friday that Ukraine doesn't need the F-16s now.
I know you said that Ukraine doesn't have the training and the maintenance capacity to use the jets, but is the real reason you're not giving Ukraine these jets because you're trying to balance how far to go in supporting Ukraine without antagonizing Russia too much?
SULLIVAN: The real reason, Dana, is that we are taking a very hard look at what it is that Ukraine needs for the immediate phase of the war that we're in.
And this phase of the war requires tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, artillery, tactical air defense systems, so that Ukrainian fighters can retake territory that Russia currently occupies.
F-16s are a question for a later time. And that's why President Biden said that, for now, he's not moving forward with those. So, as far as we're concerned, the U.S. effort has got to be to get Ukraine the tools it needs for the mission at hand. And the mission at hand is to have a successful counteroffensive where Ukraine is able to take back its own territory, away from the hands of the Russians.
BASH: So, you're not ruling out giving Ukraine the F-16s at a later time?
SULLIVAN: What President Biden said is what goes across the administration. And he was very clear. He said: I'm ruling them out for now.
BASH: Got it.
Want to ask about Crimea. Today marks exactly nine years since Russia illegally annexed Crimea. The Biden administration still repeatedly says that Crimea is part of Ukraine. You also say that Ukraine gets to define what victory look like. So I want you to sort of give a yes-or- no answer to this.
If Ukraine decided that victory means recapturing Crimea militarily, would the United States support that?
SULLIVAN: Dana, I can't give a yes-or-no answer to what is a hypothetical question.
Right now, what President Zelenskyy is focused on is getting into the best possible position on the battlefield, so that he can be in the best possible position at the negotiating table. And he spoke as recently as this week about diplomacy.
We want to help Ukraine turn battlefield gains into diplomatic leverage. And that requires us to give them the military assistance they need to make those gains. What ultimately happens with Crimea in the context of this war and a settlement of this war is something for the Ukrainians to determine, with the support of the United States.
But I'm just not going to get into hypothetical questions, because what we're facing today is a counteroffensive in the east and the south that we need to give them the tools to fight, and we are doing that.
BASH: You're talking about supporting Ukraine, and you're talking about them taking the lead on how they define victory, which is understandable. It's their war.
But the administration is also promising them that America will support them as long as it takes. Can you level with the American people about what expectations should be? Could there still be a full- blown war going on a year from now, on the second anniversary, that the U.S. is still supporting at the levels it is now?