Home United States Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrea Mitchell of NBC News

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrea Mitchell of NBC News

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrea Mitchell of NBC News

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you, Andrea.

QUESTION:  This is the fourth time you have been in Israel since October 7th, and you have said from the beginning that massacre had to be responded to, that Israel had to invade.  But now it’s been a hundred days; it’s 23,000 Palestinian civilian lives, according to reports; the hostages – 134 hostages, six Americans included – have been there for all this time.  Things have changed.  Doesn’t Israel now have to wind this down?  Isn’t that what you want?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we all want to see this conflict end as quickly as possible.  We all want to see the suffering of people who are caught in the middle end as quickly as possible.  It’s vital that Israel be able to do everything possible to ensure that October 7th never happens again, and it’s made good progress toward that – towards that objective.

QUESTION:  You say they’ve made significant progress, but yet an important minister, Gallant, said they are about to attack Khan Younis in the south very strongly, and there are people there who haven’t even been moved back to the north.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we’ve seen now a phase-down of the operations in the north.  That’s important.  We’ve seen the withdrawal of significant number – a significant number of forces, Israeli forces that were in Gaza, particularly, again, in the north where they’ve achieved a lot.  And as I said, we want to see this conflict come to an end as quickly as possible, consistent with Israel’s objective of making sure that October 7th doesn’t happen again.  And as they’re completing that effort, we want to do everything we possibly can to increase protections for civilians, to make sure that humanitarian assistance is getting in and getting to people who need it, and that’s what we’re working on relentlessly every day.

And of course, the hostages.  I had an opportunity to meet with the families – again, I’ve met with many of them, almost all of them, before on several occasions, including with President Biden.  For them, these three months have been an eternity.  Every day, every hour, every minute feels like an eternity.  So we’re also relentlessly focused on bringing them home.

QUESTION:  I met with some of them after they met with you.  They are angry.  And you know that.  They are angry, they say, that America is the world’s greatest superpower.  Where is the big stick, they said?  Why can’t you save our six children?  And how do you answer that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, no one can put themselves fully in the shoes of the families of the hostages.  And if I were in their shoes, I’d probably feel exactly the same way.  We were successful a couple months ago in getting more than a hundred hostages out.  We’re very determined to continue that.  We’re intensely engaged exactly in that effort now to renew the pauses and the release of hostages.  And this is, from the President on down, of singular importance to us, and that’s what I shared with the – with the families.

Look, the hard – the hard part is the enemy gets a vote – Hamas.  And so we’re doing everything we possibly can, working of course with the Israelis, working with Qatar, working with Egypt, countries that have relationships of one kind or another with Hamas, to put this back on track to continue getting hostages home.  That’s really my number one priority, number one responsibility in this job.

QUESTION:  Can that happen with Israel, with other people taking out a Hamas leader and a Hizballah leader with two assassinations?  Will that expand the war?  Will that make it more difficult to even get negotiations going again?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, we’re determined that the war not expand, that we don’t see new fronts opening, that we don’t see escalation.  And that was something that I’ve heard from every country I visited on this – on this trip so far.  We were in Türkiye, we were in Greece, we were in Jordan, in Qatar, in the UAE, in Saudi Arabia, before coming to Israel, and everyone has a strongly shared interest – including Israel – in not seeing escalation, not seeing expansion.

And for Lebanon, for example, it’s clear to me that Israel does not want escalation, and they believe as we do that pursuing a diplomatic path to try to make sure that the conditions exist so that people in Israel who’ve been forced from their homes in northern Israel – 80,000 because of insecurity, because of the threat coming from Hizballah – feel secure so that they can – they can come home.  And equally, we want to see people in southern Lebanon be able to return to their homes.  And we’re on a diplomatic path to try to get that to happen.

QUESTION:  Have you been given any optimism or any hope that Hamas will negotiate for hostage releases despite those assassinations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  In short, yes.  We’ve – as you know, we succeeded before in the midst of this conflict in getting more than a hundred hostages out, and it’s my – it’s my belief that they can and will engage on this, and that’s something we’re intensely focused on with Qatar and with Egypt.

QUESTION:  You’ve heard from the Al Jazeera Jerusalem bureau chief about his colleague in Gaza, the tragedy.  This bureau chief, a veteran correspondent, has lost now his wife, his son, a daughter, an infant grandchild, and now an elder son.  Did you raise that with the government here in Israel?  Because there is – there are many who believe that this was a targeted – these are targeted killings of this bureau chief’s children and wife – the entire family.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, Andrea, as I said, I don’t think any of us can possibly imagine what this man has been through.  I’m a parent, a father.  That he had this – the worst possible loss, not once but twice, as well as his wife – again, I can’t begin to imagine.  And my heart goes out to him.  It goes out to the many, the far too many innocent people who have lost their lives in this conflict.  And when it comes to Palestinian men, women, and children, or for that matter when it comes to journalists —

QUESTION:  Seventy-nine journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since this war began.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, yes.  And that’s one of the reasons that we have consistently, and including today, urged, pressed the Israelis to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, to make sure that people are protected, to take every possible measure that they can.  I talked about this a little bit earlier.  It is an incredible challenge when you have an enemy, Hamas, that intentionally embeds itself with civilians and that not only hides behind them but even fires from mosques, from schools, from hospitals.  Nonetheless, as we said from day one, Israel has an obligation to do everything possible not to have innocents, harmed, hurt.  And that’s something that we are very focused on.

QUESTION:  This may be the first war that I can recall where journalists do not have permission to cover it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well —

QUESTION:  They protested today against Israel for not letting them cover it without being escorted, to have free entry.  I want to ask you about the United Nations, though.  You said that Israel has an obligation to work with the United Nations.  You validated the new coordinator with whom you work.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, Sigrid Kaag.

QUESTION:  There are many criticisms that Israel is not working with the United Nations.  You saw the canned goods in Amman that were being delivered.  It’s a third of the truckloads that there were before the war.  People – 95 percent, you said – have food insecurity that can have lifelong consequences for children.  Does Israel have to work with the United Nations, with whom it has had decades of an adversarial relationship because of UN resolutions and hostile criticism, and the U.S. has supported Israel in almost all of these?  You said critical for this stuff to get in.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The short answer is yes, yes, yes.  It is imperative that Israel work with the United Nations.  It’s imperative that this assistance get in, that more of it get in; and that once it’s in, it gets effectively to the people who need it.  The United Nations is the only game in town.  They’re the ones who are on the ground acting incredibly courageously given that they’re in the middle of a conflict, the middle of war, trying to get assistance to people who need it.  And they’ve done extraordinary things and it requires cooperation, because there’s no alternative.  There’s no choice.  No one else is going to do it.  And if the UN wasn’t doing it, well, it would be Israel’s responsibility to do it.

So this is something, again, that we’ve talked about extensively.  Look, we’ve made real progress over the last couple of months in opening up new entry points, including Kerem Shalom just —

QUESTION:  There’s still bottlenecks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, and we’re working through all of them.  We’re getting, I think, more entry points opened.  We’re going to get – one of the things that we need to see is much better deconfliction once assistance is inside of Gaza so that it can move around, so that the UN can take it where it needs to go, to make sure that they’re going to be safe in doing that.  All of that was on the agenda today, and it’s something we’re very focused on.

QUESTION:  I’ve got to ask you about the day after, because you’ve just been through all these Arab countries.  You said that there is agreement that they will work to reconstruct Gaza, they will work to help secure Gaza if there is a Palestinian state, if the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians can work together, be unified, and have a goal, the aspiration of a state, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he opposes.  Do you have any prospect from the talks here in Israel that they will agree to that and give the Palestinians some hope for the future, now that the Arabs have agreed on a plan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So you’re exactly right.  This is what I heard in country after country – a willingness to engage, to help to support the day after in Gaza, but on the condition that there be a clear pathway to the realization of Palestinian political rights, to a Palestinian state.  And the reason for that I think is clear.  The view of most of these countries – and it’s our view as well – that absent that, the cycle of violence will never end and what we’ve seen in Gaza will, in some form or fashion, just repeat itself at some point in the future.  And the only way to really get durable peace, durable security for Israel as well as for everyone else is – includes, has to include a realization of Palestinian political rights.

But there’s something that’s very powerful and that’s changed in the last few years in the region, and this is why I think – despite the incredible challenge of this moment, despite the horrific suffering that we’re seeing – there actually is an opportunity that we haven’t seen in the past.  And the change is this:  All of these countries now want a region that’s more integrated.  They want a region that includes Israel.  They’re prepared to do things, to make commitments, to give assurances for Israel’s security.  But that also has to include the Palestinian piece.

If you put that together, there’s an incredibly positive and powerful future for most of the countries, including Israel, in a way that gives Palestinians the rights that they deserve with the necessary assurances for Israel’s security.  And then you have an integrated region, a peaceful region, a secure region with some outliers like Iran and its proxies.  But all of these countries are also prepared to work together, including with Israel, to deal with that.

So there’s really a choice for the future, and that requires hard decisions by leaders everywhere.  We can’t make those decisions for people.  We can give our best advice, our best counsel, and also the United States can give assurances, make commitments to support that process, that effort.  So you can see the possibilities that are there, even in this incredibly dark moment.  And our goal, our responsibility is to try to drive in that direction.

QUESTION:  So you’re saying that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told you normalization is not dead because of October 7th?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s correct.

QUESTION:  That it’s still – that it can still happen?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s correct.  He and virtually every other leader I talked to supports moving forward with integration, normalization, whatever you want to call it.  But of course, the conflict in Gaza needs to end, and there has to be a pathway for Palestinian rights.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Andrea.  Good to be with you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-andrea-mitchell-of-msnbcs-andrea-mitchell-reports/