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Biden's National Security adviser says US had "duty to warn" Russia of Moscow attack

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are tracking the latest on that attack on a Moscow concert hall. It happened last Friday. Some 140 people were killed. And a group called ISIS-K is claiming responsibility. Well, here's another fact. Russian authorities knew something like this might be in the works. Among other ways they might have been alerted, the U.S. government had intelligence about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow and one that was potentially targeting large gatherings, including concerts. And the U.S. shared that intelligence with Moscow earlier this month. John Kirby is the president's national security communications advisor. We have reached him at the White House. John Kirby, welcome.

JOHN KIRBY: Thank you so much, Mary Louise. Good to be with you.

KELLY: Can you share what prompted this warning to Moscow or how it was communicated?

KIRBY: What I can share with you - that we have a duty to warn to other nations when we have credible intelligence that lets us know or makes us believe that innocent civilians are going to be harmed in some way. And so given that rubric, given that obligation, which we take seriously, and given the intelligence that we had accrued about a potential terrorist attack very similar to the one that occurred, we did reach out to Russian officials.

KELLY: Was this done CIA to its Russian counterpart, SVR, or was this through diplomatic channel?

KIRBY: I'm going to protect the channels. I'm going to protect the channels. But we did - in keeping with our obligation duty to warn - we did provide them information.

KELLY: I want to hear more about - this is an actual policy, duty to warn. And it...

KIRBY: Duty to warn, yeah.

KELLY: ...Extends to other countries that the U.S. would consider adversaries as well, countries like...

KIRBY: Of course.

KELLY: ...Iran?

KIRBY: Yes.

KELLY: How's it work?

KIRBY: Yes. In fact, we've done it with the Iranians. You might remember there was a significant terrorist attack there just a couple of months ago. We gave them a heads up as well. When we have intelligence that we believe is credible, and certainly there's a sense of urgency to it, and that we think innocent civilians are going to be harmed as a result of the threat that we receive, we reach out through the appropriate channels to let that other country know. Sometimes it's a country where we have diplomatic relations, like in Russia, and so we have existing vehicles to have those conversations. In some cases, like Iran, where we don't have diplomatic relations, we find other ways to get the word to them in a credible way, and we share with them as much as we can.

KELLY: Is it a two-way street? Does Russia continue to share actionable intelligence with us?

KIRBY: I can't speak for other nations and what they warn us about or don't. I can just tell you that it's an obligation we take very seriously.

KELLY: In this case, the response from Russia was what?

KIRBY: Well, I'd let the Russians speak to that. I mean, they acknowledge the receipt of the information we provided. But to what degree they acted on it or changed anything as a result, I couldn't speak to you. That would be up to the Russian government to talk about.

KELLY: I mean, Vladimir Putin gave a speech last week and blasted the warnings as provocative.

KIRBY: I don't know how it could be perceived as provocative when we were looking out for the Russian people. The reason we provided that information was because we had every reason to believe - and as it turned out, sadly so - that innocent civilians were going to be killed and injured as a result of this potential terrorist attack. And that's exactly what happened. We don't have a beef with the Russian people. We certainly have a beef with the Kremlin and the way Mr. Putin is executing his authorities in places like Ukraine. But we absolutely didn't want to see innocent people hurt and killed. And, unfortunately, Mr. Putin has gone on now to somehow blame Ukraine. I can assure you Ukraine had absolutely nothing to do with this.

KELLY: We know this for a fact?

KIRBY: Yes, we know this for a fact.

KELLY: Before I let you go, Admiral Kirby, I want to ask about one other separate development, this one to do with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has just canceled a planned delegation to Washington in protest of a U.N. Security Council vote. What is your reaction?

KIRBY: We're perplexed by this decision, because first of all, it's a non-binding resolution that has absolutely no effect on Israel's ability to defend itself. And, quite frankly, the Prime Minister's office said that this was some sort of change in our policy. Quite the contrary. In fact, the language in this resolution, is very much consistent with what we've said, which is we want all the hostages out in conjunction with the cease-fire. The linkage between the two is clear. And that's exactly where we've been. Now, we can...

KELLY: Although, if I can just zero in on where the confusion may be, the U.N. resolution, as you know, it calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. The U.S. had vetoed earlier resolutions along those lines, and today the U.S. abstained. You're saying it does not...

KIRBY: Because...

KELLY: ...Represent any change in U.S. policy?

KIRBY: No, it does not. And the reason why we abstained was, 1, this resolution, unlike previous ones - not written by us, but other countries - just called for an immediate cease-fire with no linkage to a hostage release. This one has that linkage in it. No. 2, this resolution did not condemn Hamas, and we still believe that that's important. If the U.N. is going to stand up here for what's right, what's going on about in Gaza, then, my goodness, condemn Hamas for what they did on the 7 of October. They didn't do that. But because this one reflected broadly our policy, which has not changed - about linking the hostage release to a cease-fire - we abstained rather than vetoed it.

KELLY: That is National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby, with us from the White House. Thank you so much.

KIRBY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kat Lonsdorf
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.