Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Blinken Speaks After High-Level Meetings In Middle East; Blinken: Hamas Hostage Offer Leaves Space For Agreement; McDonald's Signals More Dollar Menu Items Coming. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 15:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, the Prime Minister, shortly after you met with him, made clear that Israeli troops will be moving deeper into Rafah. Will the United States simply stand by as this action is pursued, even with one million Palestinians, more than a million Palestinians being held -- are in Rafah, seemingly with nowhere to go?

And if I may, Congress is now moving ahead with a bill that would pair aid for Ukraine with aid for Israel. Would the administration endorse any potential package that once again prohibits UNWRA funding? Thank you.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: That's impressive. Now, I'm taking it that that includes the questions of all of your colleagues as well, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so, couldn't do that to them.

BLINKEN: All right, starting with the first part.

Look, as I said, we've looked very carefully at what came back from Hamas, and there are clearly non-starters in what it's put forward. But we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations to see if we can get to an agreement. And that's what we intend to do.

And I'm not going to speak for Israel or anyone else involved, but again, we believe the space is there, and we believe that we should pursue it.

With regard to Rafah, look, as I said before, Israel has the responsibility, has the obligation to do everything possible to ensure that civilians are protected and that they get the assistance they need in the course of this conflict. Any military campaign, military operation that Israel undertakes needs to put civilians first and foremost in mind. And I suggested, again, some ways to do that. And that's especially true in the case of Rafah, where there are somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza.

So we want to make sure, again, that in anything that's done, in any military operations, the situation for civilians is first and foremost in mind, and that the necessary steps are taken to make sure that they're protected and they have the assistance they need. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, Mr. Secretary, you said that you suggested some ways to do that, to ensure --

BLINKEN: I just went through a number of things that we urge Israel to do now, on the building on what it's already done in terms of both humanitarian assistance and civilian protection. And as I said, in the case of Rafah itself, that's extremely important because it has such a dense population, including many people who've been displaced from other parts of Gaza.

And on UNRWA, look, we were deeply concerned by the allegations that were made about the participation or involvement of some of its employees in October 7th. And it's imperative that, as the U.N. has said it's doing, that there be a thorough investigation, that there be clear accountability, and that there be clear measures put in place to make sure that this can't happen again, that personnel working for it were not in any way involved in terrorism or the events of October 7th. We know that the work that UNRWA performs, the functions that it performs have to be preserved because so many lives are depending on it.

And so going forward, we're going to look to the actions that are taken. And as I said, it's imperative that the functions be preserved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like the administration then would potentially support an aid package that still prohibited funding for UNRWA.

BLINKEN: I'm not going to get ahead of our views on hypothetical pieces of legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Although there was already an aid package that the administration endorsed that prohibited that funding.

BLINKEN: I'll leave that to the next time, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the next question, Gil Tamry with Channel 13.

GIL TAMRY, CHANNEL 13: Mr. Secretary, thank you for the opportunity. Gil Tamry, Channel 13. It seems to be that the entire Biden doctrine vis-a-vis Israel, a future Palestinian state, a normalization with Saudi Arabia is collapsing. Netanyahu says no with capital N to any form of a Palestinian state.


Saudi Arabia says a normalization with Israel will only be considered after an independent Palestinian state is formed in the 1967 borders, which is Jerusalem as its capital. So how does the U.S. intend to break this deadlock?

And secondly, regarding the hostage deal, after we listen tonight to Prime Minister Netanyahu that says that Hamas's demands are delusional. How do you find the space, as you mentioned, for negotiation, and do you feel that Netanyahu is exhausting every possible option to bring back the Israeli citizens kidnapped and held hostage by Hamas, or again, Israeli politics is intervening?

And lastly, why did you cancel your visit tomorrow to Kerem Shalom?

BLINKEN: So this is good, I think we have a trend going of at least three questions per question.

Last question first. There was no planned visit to Kerem Shalom, so there was nothing to cancel. One of the things we want to make sure, as well as I said, is that assistance be able to move smoothly and sustainably, but there was nothing to cancel.

Second, I guess I'll go in reverse order. On the hostage agreement, again, I can only repeat myself. Clearly, clearly, there are things that Hamas sent back that are absolute non-starters, and I assume that's what the Prime Minister was referring to, but I don't want to speak for him.

But at the same time, we see in what was sent back space to continue to pursue an agreement, and these things are always negotiations. It's not flipping a light switch, it's not yes or no. There's invariably back and forth, and as I said, we see the space for that. And given the imperative, given the importance that we all attach to bringing the hostages home, we're intent on pursuing it.

Finally, as I've said before, you know, we were, before October 7th, pursuing the possibility of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And in fact, I was scheduled to come to Israel and to Saudi Arabia, I believe it was on October 10th, to pursue that, and in particular, to focus on what we already knew back then was a necessary Palestinian component to any normalization agreement.

When I saw the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia just a couple of days ago, he repeated to me his desire and determination to pursue normalization, but he also repeated that in order to do that, two things need to happen. One, there needs to be calm in Gaza. Two, there needs to be a clear and credible pathway to a Palestinian state.

So as I said before, you can see the path forward for Israel and for the entire region with integration, with normalization, with security assurances, with the pathway to a Palestinian state that entirely changes the equation and the future for the better, for Israelis, for Arabs, for Palestinians. And in so doing, isolates groups like Hamas, isolates countries like Iran that want a very different future. But as I also said, going down that path, pursuing it requires hard decisions. None of this is easy.

And so, it will be up to Israelis to decide what they want to do, when they want to do it, how they want to do it. No one's going to make those decisions for them. All that we can do is to show what the possibilities are, what the options are, what the future could be, and compare it to the alternative.

[15:40:00] And the alternative right now looks like an endless cycle of violence and destruction and despair. We know where the better path lies, but I don't minimize in any way the very difficult decisions that would need to be made by all concerned to travel down that path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anton La Guardia with The Economist.

ANTON LA GUARDIA, DIPLOMATIC EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: Thank you very much, Secretary. Can you give you some very specific words in describing this vision for a better path? What do you actually mean by clear, credible, irreversible, time-bound path to a Palestinian state?

And in Qatar, and again today, you spoke about Israel receiving security guarantees and assurances from its neighbors. What does that actually mean? What's on the table for Israel if it goes down this path? And would that include additional U.S. assurances to Israel on top of the arrangements that currently exist? Thank you.

BLINKEN: Look, I'm not going to get ahead of things or get into specifics. I think those words speak for themselves. How they're defined, how they're made real, that's the subject of diplomacy. It's very much the subject of the conversations that I've been having in the region, as well as here, as we flesh that out and give real substance to it. But I don't want to get ahead of it.

What I can only add in response to the rest of your question is it's clear to me, from talking to many of the countries in the region, that they're prepared to do things with and for Israel that they were never prepared to do in the past, including steps that would further address any security concerns it might have. And similarly, the United States is prepared to do that, too.

But the details of that, the substance of that, these are all things that we continue to talk about in these conversations, in our diplomacy, and we'll bring it into ever sharper focus. Because at some point, yes, it will be very important to put forward exactly those details and see if, for all parties concerned, there is a credible pathway to walk down. And again, I believe that there is, but there remains a lot of work to be done in the weeks and months ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The final question goes to Mohammad Jamjoom with Al Jazeera English.

MOHAMMAD JAMJOOM, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH Mr. Secretary, thank you. I have two issues I want to ask you about.

The first is regarding the fact that you've spoken about the importance of creating a pathway for a Palestinian state. There have been reports that you've asked the State Department to review options on potentially recognizing a Palestinian state. So I want to ask you if that's the case, and if so, is that a type of pressure point that you feel is needed to get Israel to agree to a ceasefire and one that could ultimately lead to a two-state solution? That's the first issue.

Second issue I want to ask you about is the fact that Israel has maintained that Hamas needs to be eliminated, that it cannot have any role in governing Gaza after the war has ended. Where does the U.S. currently stand on this? Is it in any way acceptable to the U.S. for Hamas to be playing a role in governing Gaza in a day-after scenario, and what would U.S. policy be toward Hamas going forward?

BLINKEN: The short answer to the second part of the question is no. As to the first part of the question, look, as I just said, there are a number, as we're defining the path forward, including the pathway to a Palestinian state, there are a number of policy options that people may propose as part of that process.

But our focus today is on all of the diplomacy needed to bring it about, including, again, getting ideas, getting proposals from all concerned, and putting those together in a credible and clear plan. So that's where we are, and as I said, we'll continue to have these conversations to engage in that diplomacy to really sharpen the focus on all of the different elements that would be necessary, that would be involved, and that each of the parties believes is important. Thank you.

Thank you. Thanks, everyone, and apologies for keeping folks late. Hope you get a chance to have some dinner. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary, where are the non-starters?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, you were listening there to Secretary of State Tony Blinken in Tel Aviv, where he has been throughout the region meeting with Palestinian leaders, as well as Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he said that he believes a hostage deal is still possible. He said there are some clear non-starters coming from Hamas, but there is still space for agreement.


Which the journalists there challenged him on, because earlier we'd heard Netanyahu describe the terms, which was a translation from Hebrew as crazy or delusional, coming from Hamas. And so, he was asked, where in there is there space for agreement? But he insisted that there is some. He's been stressing to partners as well this diplomatic path to a two-state solution.

And if we can go ahead and bring in Alex Marquardt to talk a little bit about what we heard there. Alex, what stood out to you?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I think our journalistic colleagues in that room, both Israeli and American, making valiant efforts to get Secretary Blinken to give a much better indication of where these talks actually stand, and whether to what extent, what Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier today was in fact a rejection of this counter-proposal by Hamas that was received yesterday.

He did not indicate progress being made while he was in Israel, but nor was he pessimistic. What is clear from what we just heard there is that this is a negotiation and there is still a ways to go, that a deal is not imminent. All Secretary Blinken said was that there were clear non-starters in the Hamas counter-proposal, but that there is still space for negotiation.

And I think it's fair to say that the non-starters, and you could hear as he left there another journalist asking, what are those non- starters? But if you look at what Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier, it appears to center around the question of Palestinian prisoners who would be released. The expectation is that at least in a first phase of a deal, a multi-phase deal that would see a pause in the fighting during each one, you would see women, children, and elderly Israeli hostages be released, and at the same time, Palestinian prisoners would be released. And in a copy of the demands that were made by Hamas that CNN had obtained, that looks like a considerable number of Palestinian prisoners that they want to see released, including, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier today, terrorists with blood on their hands.

What we understand Hamas to be demanding is people -- Palestinians who have been arrested since October 7th, and I think that would include the perpetrators of October 7th, that they would be released, as well as hundreds of prisoners who are in Israeli prisons convicted of serious crimes and have been sentenced to life sentences.

So I think, Brianna and Jessica, what's going to happen now is Blinken's going to come back to the States, and these conversations will continue. That Israel will tell the U.S. and the other mediators what those sticking points are, what those non-starters are, and they will go on from there.

But as we've been discussing throughout the course of the day another major sticking point between the two sides is that Hamas wants to see this war end. Prime Minister Netanyahu and others in his government want the war, or at least the efforts against Hamas to keep going. They do not want this to wind down anytime soon because they clearly feel they have a ways to go before they achieve that victory over Hamas.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: All right, Alex Marquardt for us. Thanks so much. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.



DEAN: McDonald's is acknowledging it's time to put affordability back on the menu and add more options to its dollar menu.

Its stock took a hit this week after the fast food giant reported a recent drop in visits by its key customers who make $45,000 a year or less. And a lot of people have taken to social media to complain about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is $3 worth of food. This, for reference, is a potato, which you can get four to five pounds of these for $3, $4. Something doesn't seem right here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y'all supposed to be dollar menu budget-friendly.

When did y'all get uppity? I need y'all to take it back down. You tone up here, I need you to take it back down here because you ain't even that good.


KEILAR: Joining us now is Vanessa Yurkevich. So, Vanessa, McDonald's says with inflation cooling down at the supermarket, eating at home is becoming the more affordable choice for many here.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, people go to McDonald's because it's fast, it's reliable, and it's affordable. And for many Americans right now, they're saying that's just not the case.

And that is because to buy groceries and eat at home, prices are only up 1.3 percent. Compare that to going out to dinner, 5.2 percent. But look at McDonald's prices. They have said that they've had to raise prices by 10 percent. And that is largely because of food costs.

And we broke it down a little bit. You saw that guy talking about just how much it is for a single hash brown. A lot of people are saying that. They're saying that prices for a hash brown are $3, quarter pounder with cheese, a meal, $12.80 in Brooklyn, New York. And in Derry, Connecticut, a Big Mac meal is $18.

One of our colleagues here at CNN said that she actually went to that McDonald's. And for a family of four, she spent $100. This is clearly not affordable for a lot of Americans, especially low-income Americans.

And McDonald's is saying that they need to take a look at their prices. They need to bring prices down to try to attract people back into their fast food chain.

KEILAR: Wow, I do Burger Friday with my kids, so I know about this. And I was telling Jessica this, it's so expensive. It's beyond what you would think. It's not like when we were kids.

DEAN: Right.

YURKEVICH: Yes, it's not that affordable fast food.


And as people are trying to save, they try to save for cheaper options, but these fast food chains are not cheaper options for them anymore. And we're seeing that amongst other brands too, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, which is owned by Yum! Brands. They're also reporting weaker than expected earnings in the fourth quarter. And they're seeing the same thing as McDonald's. People in that lower income tax bracket just saying, you're no longer an affordable option. And they're going to have to do some work to get those folks back in the doors.

KEILAR: All right, Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you so much. They certainly are.

And just ahead, we have much more news. Officers in Missouri responding to a possible home invasion make a hilarious discovery. Wait until you find out what set off the alarm.


DEAN: A couple of Missouri police officers rushing to the scene of a possible home break-in made quite a discovery. They were responding to a home alarm, but when they walked into that house, they found a different kind of intruder, a squirrel. Watch what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. We'll just start clearing room by room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's right there. It's a squirrel. They can disregard. I just saw it. Tony, are you going to disregard the help? We got a squirrel in the house.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all right, we're clear here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we're clear here.


DEAN: We got a squirrel in the house. Hey it happens sometimes. Brianna, I had a squirrel live in my car -- my high school car. It just like weaseled it's way in there and we couldn't figure it out for a while. They make a lot of noise.

KEILAR: Yes, they like to get in there but you don't know, they could be clearing the house cat from room to room. It was a pretty funny moment there.

All right Jess, it was so fun today to be with you. And "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.