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Biden remarks on the U.S. response to balloon and unidentified aerial objects

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the days since a Chinese spy balloon and three unidentified aerial objects were shot down by U.S. fighter jets, there have been a lot of questions. Today President Biden made his first extensive comments on this unusual chapter in White House history. He said he has no regrets about shooting down the Chinese spy balloon at the beginning of the month. But as far as the other objects go, he said better rules are needed to regulate when things go up and when the military should shoot them down. NPR politics reporter Deepa Shivaram was watching the president's remarks and joins us now. Hey, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so what goes up doesn't necessarily come down, I guess. What else did we hear from the president today?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, a lot of people have been waiting to hear directly from the president about those three unidentified objects, you'll remember, that were shot down on Friday, then one Saturday and then another one on Sunday. And the thing is, we still don't have a lot of information. Biden said that they still don't know what exactly those objects are. But right now, nothing suggests that they're part of China's spy balloon program, like that first balloon that was found and shot down earlier this month.

Biden said that these three objects were most likely tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions that are studying weather or conducting other kinds of scientific research. And because there are all kinds of objects floating around at high altitudes for these purposes, Biden said he's directed his team to recommend, quote, "sharper rules" for how to handle these unidentified objects, essentially in order to differentiate between the ones that pose a threat and ones that are basically weather balloons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Going forward, these parameters will guide what actions we'll take while responding to unmanned and unidentified aerial objects. We're going to keep adapting them as challenges evolve, if it evolves.

CHANG: Well, did President Biden give any indication of what those parameters, those rules will look like?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, he said those new guidelines would remain classified, and he would share them with Congress when they're completed. So we won't know exactly what those new rules are. But we do know that Biden's team will establish an inventory of sorts for how many objects are actually up there, who's allowed to launch them and, on the international level, working to create some kind of global norm on what we can fly in this airspace to begin with.

CHANG: Well, I do want to ask because, you know, the U.S. shot down those three unidentified objects a lot more quickly than it shot down the Chinese spy balloon, which was the thing that started all of this. And there has been criticism from Republicans that the president took too long to act on that first incident. Did Biden respond to any of that?

SHIVARAM: He did. And he defended his decision to wait until the spy balloon wasn't going to harm any civilians once it was shot down. And he also said that the government protected any sensitive sites that the balloon was going to fly over before they shot it down. And Biden said shooting it down sent a clear message that violating U.S. sovereignty is unacceptable. In the meantime, Biden also said that he sanctioned six firms involved in China's balloon program. And those restrictions mean that they're denied access to any U.S. technology.

CHANG: OK. So Biden says the U.S. sent a clear message to China, but we know that China has called shooting down the balloon an overreaction, right? So how concerned is the president about this increased tension with China because of all this?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, Biden said this whole incident has underscored the importance of open lines of communication between officials in the U.S. and China. And he did say he expects to be speaking with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He didn't say exactly when that would be, though. But Biden and Vice President Harris have both recently said that they don't think this incident has hurt relations with China. And Biden echoed that today. He said he's not looking for any conflict with China, but he makes no apologies for shooting down the spy balloon. In the last two weeks, though, I got to tell you, there hasn't been a lot of communication between top U.S. and Chinese officials. So that open line that Biden wants hasn't really come to fruition.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thank you so much, Deepa.

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

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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