Return to Transcripts main page
CNN News Central
Secretary of State Antony Blinken's Speech in Israel; Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired November 03, 2023 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's obligation to defend itself. That includes through the additional assistance that we work with Congress and we're working with Congress now to provide for Israel's defense, as well as for urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.
This right to self-defense, indeed its obligation to self-defense belongs to every nation. No country could or should tolerate the slaughter of innocents.
You heard me speak to some of the stories that Israelis have experienced on October 7th. Today we saw additional images, additional footage collected by the Israeli government from video cameras, some the terrorists own, others in communities that were attacked. It remains almost beyond the human capacity to process, to digest.
I saw, for example, a family on a kibbutz, a father, two young boys, maybe 10, 11 years old, grabbing them, pulling them out of their living room, going through their very small backyard and into a shelter, followed seconds later by a terrorist who throws a grenade into that small shelter. And then as the father comes staggering out, shoots him down. And then the boys come out and they run into -- into their house. And the camera in the house is filming everything. And they're crying. Where's daddy one says. The other says, they killed daddy. Where's my mommy? And then the terrorist comes in and casually opens the refrigerator and starts to eat from it. That's what we're dealing with.
And it is striking, and in some ways shocking, that the brutality of the slaughter has receded so quickly in the memories of so many, but not in Israel and not in America. Thirty-fie Americans were murdered that day as well and more than 200 foreign nationals from 35 countries.
I've returned to the region to engage in intense diplomacy with our partners, to try to help ensure that an attack like October 7th never happens again. And in doing so, that we forge a different future, a very different future, for Israelis and Palestinians alike. That out of this tragedy emerges a better tomorrow for both people's and for the region.
There are a number of important steps that we can, indeed we must take now, to help make that possible. First, we need to continue to prevent escalation of this conflict. Its
spread to other areas and other theaters. The United States has and we will continue to respond to attacks by Iran's proxies to defend our personnel in the region, personnel who are here in Iraq and in Syria to help prevent the resurgence of ISIS. We will do what is necessary to deter and, as I said, respond to any attacks. Partners throughout the Middle East and beyond have a critical role to play in averting escalation, and that will be a major focus of my conversations throughout this trip.
Second, we need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians. We've been clear that as Israel conducts this campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters. It matters because it's the right and lawful thing to do. It matters because failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups. There will be no partners for peace if they're consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight.
And this is what binds us as human beings. I've seen images, too, of Palestinian children, young boys and girls, pulled from the wreckage of buildings. When I see that, when I look into their eyes through the TV screen, I see my own children. How can we not?
Hamas doesn't care one second or one iota for the welfare, for the well-being of the Palestinian people.
It cynically and monstrously uses them as human shields, putting its commanders in command posts, its weapons and ammunition within or beneath residential buildings, schools, mosques, hospitals. But civilians should not suffer the consequences for its inhumanity and its brutality. We provided Israel advice that only the best of friends can offer on how to minimize civilian deaths while still achieving its objectives of finding and finishing Hamas terrorists and their infrastructure of violence. Today I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials about concrete steps to do that.
President Biden has consistently stressed the need for Israel to operate according to international humanitarian law. I also emphasized that the protection of civilians must take place not just in Gaza but also on the West Bank where incitement and extremist violence against Palestinians must be stopped and perpetrators held accountable.
Third, we need to substantially and immediately increase the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and getting American citizens and other foreign nationals out of Gaza. Since we reached agreement with Israel, Egypt and the United Nations two weeks ago on mechanisms to enable humanitarian aid to begin reaching civilians in need, we have scaled up deliveries. We've gone from zero to now over 100 trucks going into Gaza through the Rafah crossing every day. But this is still not enough.
I spoke to Israeli leaders about tangible steps that can be taken to increase the sustained delivery of food, water, medicine, fuel and other essential needs, while putting in place measures to prevent diversion by Hamas and other terrorist groups. We've identified mechanisms to enable fuel to reach hospitals and other needs in the south.
Israel has raised appropriate concerns. Concerns that we share about Hamas's hoarding and syphoning of fuel in northern Gaza. Again, its cynicism knows no bounds. Denying fuel itself that it has to hospitals and other places that desperately need it. In meetings with regional partners, I'll continue conversations about getting assistance to flow, including with help from the United Nations.
Over the last several days U.S. citizens, foreign nationals and critically wounded Palestinian civilians have begun to transit out of Gaza. We expect more to leave over the coming days. Even as these people are able to exit Gaza, we remain relentlessly focused on securing the release of hostages, including American citizens. We discussed these ongoing efforts today. Our deputy special representative for hostage affairs, Steve Gillen, who came with me on my first visit a couple weeks ago, has remained here on the ground to help bring our people home and also to work with their families.
We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses, by arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and permit the more effective and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance. That was an important area of discussion today with Israeli leaders, how, when and where these can be implemented, what work needs to happen and what understandings must be reached.
Now, we recognize this would take time to prepare and coordinate as well with international partners. A number of legitimate questions were raised in our discussions today, including how to use any period of pause to maximize the flow of humanitarian assistance. How to connect a pause to the release of hostages. How to ensure that Hamas doesn't use these pauses or arrangements to its own advantage. These are issues that we need to tackle urgently and we believe they can be solved.
We've agreed to have our teams continue to discuss practical solutions. I have instructed our special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, David Satterfield, who's been doing remarkable work here over the last couple of weeks, to continue these discussions. Ultimately, we believe this can be a critical mechanism for protecting civilians, while enabling Israel to achieve its objectives of defeating Hamas.
Finally, and importantly, even as we work toward progress on each of these urgent needs, we're focused on setting the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace and security. The United States continues to believe that the best viable path, indeed the only path, is through a two-state solution. That's the only guarantor of a secure Jewish and democratic Israel. The only guarantor of Palestinians realizing their legitimate right to live in a state of their own, enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity. The only way to end a cycle of violence once and for all.
[09:40:03] And it's precisely now, in the darkest moments, that we have to fight hardest to preserve a path of stability, of security, of opportunity, of integration, of prosperity and of peace. Not tomorrow, not after the war, but today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First question goes to Leon Bruneau with AFP (ph).
LEON BRUNEAU, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Hi. Leon Bernau, Agence France- Presse. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Secretary.
BRUNEAU: You mentioned it in your opening speech, of course, and yesterday also you said that you would - you would - it was urgent or concrete measures needed to be taken to ease the fate of Palestinian civilians.
What assurances did the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, give to you this morning in your talks? And also on the issue of humanitarian pauses that you say you have discussed, and I understand that you said you don't know where, how or when, but could you give us a little bit more details on what you mean by that exactly? I mean is it stop bombings or what have you? Could you give us some details on that? And then, last question, very quickly, there was a strike yesterday on AFP's office in Gaza where we have a continued live feed for -- since the beginning of the conflict. The -- apparently a missile strike. There's serious damage to our office there. I'd like your thoughts on that, please. Thank you.
BLINKEN: Great, Leon. Thank you very much.
A few things in response.
First, when it comes overall to humanitarian assistance, the Israeli government is committed to providing that assistance or enabling that assistance, more accurately, to get to people in Gaza. And as I said, just over the last two weeks, we've gone from nothing getting in through the Rafah gate to now I think just today well over 100 trucks. And as I said, that's significant progress in the space of a couple of weeks, but it's also insufficient. And there's a recognition not only by us of that fact, but also by the Israeli government, as well as our Egyptian partners, as well as the United Nations. So, we are looking at very concrete, practical ways to widen the aperture, to significantly increase the assistance that's getting in, the food, the medicine, the water, fuel, other critical needs for people who, through no fault of their own, are in desperate, desperate need.
And we had a good conversation about that today. Again, Ambassador Satterfield, who's here, is working on this every single day. But I'm confident, based on the conversations we had, that you'll see a further increase in the assistance that's getting in to people who need it.
With regard to humanitarian pauses, again, we see this as a way of further facilitating the ability to get assistance in, to make sure that the resources are in place as well to absorb the assistance coming in, to make sure that it gets to the people who need it. We see it as a way also and very importantly of creating a better environment in which hostages can be released. And this is a very important piece.
So, as I mentioned already, and I won't -- I won't repeat it, there are a number of very important practical questions that go along with this that we've agreed to discuss and work on. We've agreed that our teams will continue to talk about this in the days ahead. And from our perspective this can be a critical way to advance many of the interests that I - that I discussed earlier.
I haven't seen the details about the - the strike, Leon, that you alluded to that hit the AFP office in Gaza. And let me just say, and say again, that as we stand strongly for Israel's right and obligation to defend itself, we also believe that it's vitally important how Israel does this, including with the highest regard for the protection of civilians and that of course includes journalists. Journalists who are doing extraordinary work under the most dangerous conditions, to tell the story to the world. Something that we deeply admire, deeply respect and we want to make sure that they are protected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next question goes to Corrine Betselel (ph) with Channel 12.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Blinken, for being here.
Two issues. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, is talking right now. If following his speech or his remark another front will open in the north, will the U.S. actually use its firepower in the region, not only to deter, but also to destroy targets in Lebanon or, if needed, in Iran?
And on the hostages, the Biden administration is asking Israel for a temporary pause. And we understand it is not a ceasefire. But do you have any guarantees, any assurances that this temporary pause will lead to hostage release? And I know you had heard the family of the hostages today outside the (INAUDIBLE) and if my I -- can you assure us that the United States will not hold Israel back before the main objective of this war will fulfill, which is eliminating Hamas?
BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
BLINKEN: Let me take the second question first.
There are no guarantees about anything, as a general proposition and maybe even more specifically in the context of the fight against Hamas, but we are absolutely focused on getting hostages back and getting them back to their families in safety. And we believe that, among other things, a humanitarian pause could help that effort, could facilitate it. It's one of the reasons why we're focused on it. But, regardless, our determination to get -- get people back is manifested every single day in our efforts to do -- to do just that.
And as I've said, and said repeatedly, and as President Biden has said and said repeatedly, we stand strongly with and behind Israel in its right and obligation to defend itself, defend its people and take the steps necessary to try to ensure that this never happens again. Nothing has changed and that won't change.
With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran, we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict. President Biden said on day one to anyone thinking of opening a second front, taking advantage of the situation, don't. And we backed up those words, not only with work that we've done with many partners in the region to reinforce that message, but with practical deeds, including the deployment of two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, including with action that we've taken, for example, against missiles coming from Yemen in the direction of Israel, shooting them down, including as well with strikes that we took in response to multiple attacks on our personnel in Iraq and Syria who are there, as I said earlier, to try to prevent a resurgence in the region of ISIL, of Daesh. We remain absolutely determined in that effort. And I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations, but all I can say is, we're committed to deterring aggression from any part and will take steps necessary to deal with it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the next question, Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal."
VIVIAN SALAMA, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mr. Secretary, thank you, as always, for bringing us along with you in your travels.
BLINKEN: Thanks, Vivian (ph).
SALAMA: Before we left D.C. you stressed that the U.S. was discussing with Israel the current conflict and you added, "we will also be focusing on the day after." Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like, in particular what is being done to ensure that whatever does come after doesn't spin into potentially short or long-term occupation? And also are there discussions at all to create a multilateral force for Gaza? And if so, would the U.S. be willing to take part in something like that?
BLINKEN: Thanks, Vivian.
Here is what we know and I think is agreed among everyone, there cannot and must not be a return to the pre October 7th status quo. That's unacceptable, it's not tolerable for Israel, it shouldn't be acceptable or tolerable by anyone else. And that means that the idea of Hamas remaining responsible for governance, such as it was, and security and posing an ongoing and enduring threat to Israel and its citizens is unacceptable.
So, that's one thing we know.
We also know that Israel cannot reassume control and responsibility for Gaza. And it's important to note that Israel has made clear it has no intention or desire to do that. So, within those parameters we are, and we'll continue to have discussions with partners throughout the region and well beyond about what should follow once Hamas is defeated. There are a number of possibilities, permutation, but it's really premature to get into any detail about that.
As important is putting this into a bigger picture, a bigger vision of how we achieve enduring and lasting peace and security in the region. And as I said earlier, the United States is convinced, we have been for some time, and I think we're only reinforced in that conviction since October 7th, that the best path, maybe even the only path as I said, is through two states for two peoples. Again, that is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel, the only way to ensure that the Palestinians achieve their legitimate aspirations for a state of their own. So, I think it's important as we're talking about all of this with - with every partner in the region, Israel, our Arab partners, and many others, as well as the broader international community, that we have that big frame in mind. And whatever we do, whatever is done, also helps to advance that. So, that's how we're looking at it right now.
SALAMA: Can I just press you, Mr. Secretary, because you're talking about the defeat of Hamas, and I'm wondering, you know, for -- Hamas is not just a bunch of individuals, but probably an ideology as well. And especially with the intense bombardment that we're seeing in Gaza right now, the potential for extremism down the line is high. And so, you know, when you say defeat Hamas, is that being factored in? And what are you doing then to address those issues as well?
BLINKEN: Yes. Vivian, I - you're exactly right, this is about dealing with Hamas in terms of defeating it physically. That is making sure that it can't repeat what it did on October 7th. But it is also about defeating an idea, a perverted idea, but an idea that we have to combat with a better idea, with a better future, with a better vision for what that future can be, and demonstrating that we're committed to achieving that future, that vision. Because in the absence of that, even after Hamas, those who sign the siren song of nihilism will find open ears. SO, it's imperative, in our judgement, that not only is Hamas dealt with in a way that October 7th can never be repeated, but that we lay out a clear vision and a path to achieve that vision that gives people something to hope for, to buy into, to grab on to.
And I believe that there is a broad and strong coalition throughout the region that wants to do exactly that. All of these countries are on one side of the equation. Who's on the other side of the equation? Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. So, it's incumbent upon us, I think, not only to - to lay out that vision, but to be clear about the ways that we propose to achieve it. This is not flipping a light switch needless to say given how deep rooted and enduring these - these problems are. But they're -- we have to. We have to address this. And we have to address it in concrete ways and with determination because, again, it is coming back to exactly what you said, we have to demonstrate that we have a better idea and a way to achieve it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the final question, Mahahad Tutungi (ph) with
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
First question. The world (ph) is looking to end this war. When will you ask Israel to stop it?
And the next question. The way (ph) of settler violence is increasing with unarmed Palestinians being killed daily.
What is the United States doing to address increasing settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank?
BLINKEN: Thank you.
With regard to the first part of the question. Again, I'll repeat what I've said. We stand behind Israel's right, and indeed obligation, to defend itself and to do everything it can to make sure that October 7th never happens again. And we will continue to stand with Israel to achieve that. As I've also said repeatedly, the way that Israel does so matters. And we've discussed today, as well as in many preceding days, the imperative of doing everything possible to protect civilian, the imperative of doing everything possible to get assistance to those who need it.
With regard to extremist violence that we're seeing in the West Bank, this is something that, before October 7th, was a real concern for the United States and one that we've repeatedly raised in our engagements with the Israeli government. And it's an acute concern right now.
Look, I don't want to speak for the Israeli government, it's not appropriate, but I think it's fair to say that what -- what I heard today was a clear commitment from the government to deal with extremist violence in the West Bank, to commute it, to take action to prevent it, to take action against those who perpetrate it.
So, this is important. And we will be looking closely to ensure that our friends make good on the commitment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Thanks, everyone.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we've been listening to the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, on an urgent mission right now in Israel, making important statements about -- from his post as the secretary of state, and also offering some important caveats about where things stand, what needs to be done, but what they - what they know are the complications amidst the war right now.
Let's get straight over to Jim Sciutto. He's standing by for us in northern Israel.
From your perch right there, which is one of the fronts that Secretary Blinken was warning against seeing have open up, Jim, what stood out to you from the secretary of state?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I think it's exactly those words. He said, in Blinken's word, "we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this war." He repeated President Biden's words just in the days after October 7th, warning with that word, if you're thinking about getting involved, paraphrasing, don't. That President Biden's words then. And then Blinken noting, the U.S. carrier groups now in the region, two of them. And also a U.S. destroyer that you'll remember shot down missiles aimed at Israel coming from Iran-backed Houthi rebels off of Yemen.
So, you have the U.S. secretary of state coming to the region in effect repeating that. And by mentioning the presence of U.S. forces here, you might say backing up that warning with that presence. Not saying explicitly, but saying, or signaling, right, that those forces are at hand if a second or third front is opened up in the war.
It's interesting, I will just say to you, Kate, as I was listening at the same time to Secretary Blinken's speech, and Hassan Nasrallah's speech in Beirut, I'm standing on a hilltop here in Kiryat Shmona, which is a town in northern Israel. It's been a target in the last 24 hours of attacks by Hezbollah, and other groups in southern Lebanon. Rockets coming across that hillside there from Lebanon, one striking the city. And you can't see them, but just to note, around me here are Israeli soldiers positioned on this hilltop to look out for the possibility of another strike coming in. So that gives you a sense, as you hear those words from the U.S. secretary of state warning against another front opening up, that folks here in this part of the region are watching very closely for exactly that.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Ed Lavandera now who is in Tel Aviv.
And, Ed, it was striking to hear the secretary of state describe seeing yet more videos of Israelis being killed in the terror attack. And visibly moved secretary of state. And then he added that the brutality of the attacks has receded for so many around the world, but not in Israel and not in the United States. That was a way for the secretary, I think, to show support of Israel. But then he continued on to say that the way that Israel conducts this war is important because of the results, because if they conduct in a certain way, they won't have any partners for a possible peaceful solution going forward.
What did you hear there?