Milley defends Chinese calls in an effort to avoid conflict

On Wednesday, the top U.S. military official defended phone calls he made with his Chinese counterpart during Donald Trump's turbulent last months of presidency. He said the conversations were meant to provide "reassurance" for the Chinese military and were consistent with his duties as chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Milley defends Chinese calls in an effort to avoid conflict

Some members of Congress accused Gen. Mark Milley, the head of the General Staff, of being overstepping his authority. They urged President Joe Biden not to fire him but Biden stated Wednesday that he supports Milley.

Biden stated, "I have great faith in Gen. Milley," when asked by a reporter if Milley had done the right things.

Col. Dave Butler, Milley's spokesperson, stated that Milley acted within the authority of his position as the most senior uniformed advisor to the president and the secretary of defence.

Butler stated that "His calls to the Chinese and other countries in October and January were consistent with these duties and responsibility conveying reassurance to maintain strategic stability." All calls made by the chairman to his counterparts (including those reported) are coordinated, staffed and communicated with both the Department of Defense, and the interagency.

Robert Costa and Bob Woodward, Washington Post journalists, have excerpted from their forthcoming book "Peril" about the Milley phone calls. According to the book, Milley said that he had told Gen. Li Zuocheng from the People's Liberation Army that in case of an attack by the U.S., he would warn him.

Trump appointed Milley chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2019, and Biden kept him on. Milley is not a commander of troops, but instead serves as an advisor to the president and secretary of defense. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, stated that Austin has "complete trust and utter confidence" in Gen. Milley.

Woodward and Costa's book reported that Milley was worried about Trump's final weeks as president. He called twice his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the United States would not attack China. The first call was made on October 30, 2020, just four days before Trump's defeat in the election. The second call took place on Jan. 8, 2021. It was less than two weeks prior to Biden's inauguration, and only two days after the rebellion at the U.S. Capitol started by supporters Trump.

The Associated Press received a copy. The Washington Post reported details from the book on Tuesday.

Milley said to him, "General Li, we want to assure you, that the American government has been stable and everything will be alright," according to the book. "We will not attack you or conduct any kinetic operation against you."

"If we are going to attack, then I'm going ahead and calling you." Milley said that it was not surprising.

Milley's spokesperson did not address this issue in his Wednesday statement, but stated that Milley communicates regularly with his counterparts around the world, including China and Russia to reduce tensions and provide clarity, and avoid conflict or unintended consequences.

Milley met with several other military leaders from around the globe after the Jan. 6th riot. These included representatives from Russia, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. According to a January readout, Milley spoke with "several" counterparts who also sent similar messages to reassure them that the U.S. government was in control and strong.

This second call was intended to calm Chinese concerns about Jan. 6's events. The book reports that Li was not as easy to placate, even though Milley assured him that he would be 100 percent steady. It's all fine. Sometimes, however, democracy can get sloppy."

Trump stated Tuesday that Milley should face trial for treason, if it were true that he had promised Li he would warn him in case of an attack by the U.S. On Wednesday, Trump said that Milley was "a complete nutjob" in a follow up statement and added that he had never told him about China-related calls.

Trump said, "He put our country in a very dangerous situation but President Xi knows best and would've called him,"

According to officials, Milley believed that the president had suffered from mental decline following the election. This view was also shared by Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker. According to the book, Milley asked top officers to swear an "oath," that Milley must be present if Trump gives an order to launch nukes.

Milley's spokesman stated Wednesday that Milley had spoken to senior officers about nuclear weapons protocols to "remind uniformed leaders at the Pentagon of long-established, robust procedures in light media reporting on this subject." Butler, the spokesman seemed to be referring specifically to the news reports from the Jan. 8 Milley/Pelosi telephone call. Butler didn't address the question of whether Milley insisted that he be a part of the nuclear weapon procedures.

Pelosi previously stated that she had spoken to Milley about "available precautions" that could prevent Trump from ordering a nuclear strike or initiating military action. She also told colleagues that she was given unspecified assurances of long-standing safeguards.

According to the book Milley called the Admiral in charge of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. This military unit is responsible for Asia and the Pacific, and suggested postponement of future military exercises.

It is not known if military exercises were delayed or not. Officials from the defense said that it was more likely that the military delayed a planned operation such as a U.S. Navy vessel in the Pacific to allow for freedom of navigation transit. Defense officials spoke under anonymity in order to discuss private conversations.

Senator Marco Rubio (Republican from Florida) sent Biden Tuesday to urge him to fire Milley in response to the book. He stated that Milley had worked to "actively undermine" the Commander-in-Chief.

Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described the report as "deeply concerning" and told reporters at Capitol that General Milley should answer the question about what he said.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he was not concerned that Milley might have overstepped his authority. He told reporters that Democratic lawmakers were "circumspect in their language, but many of us made clear that we counted on him to avoid the catastrophe which we knew could occur at any time."

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