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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Reiterates Support for Two- State Solution; Peshawar Suicide Bombing Claims at Least 100; More Mass Protests over Pension Reform in France; Severely Beaten Iranian Protester Manages to Escape; Former Wagner Commander in Norway after Defecting. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired January 31, 2023 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Walking a diplomatic tightrope, the U.S. secretary of state meets with the Palestinian Authority president in
the hopes of dialing back tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Pakistan mourns: funerals taking place after a deadly explosion in a mosque killed at least 100 people.
And retirement age rage; thousands of people take to the streets and protest as France sticks by its plan to raise the current pension age.
ANDERSON: I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi, hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD, where we are expecting the U.S. secretary of state to talk to
the media after a Middle East tour that comes amid a surge of violence in the region.
Much like yesterday, Antony Blinken is running behind schedule. We will get you his comments live when they happen. Earlier, he met with the
Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and others in the West Bank and he acknowledged the very difficult path ahead in trying to end decades
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's also important to continue to strive not only for reducing violence (ph) but ensuring that ultimately
the Israelis and Palestinians alike enjoy the same rights, the same opportunities.
What we are seeing now, from the Palestinians, is a shrinking horizon of hope, not an expanding one. And that, too, we believe, needs to change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Well, Hadas Gold has been following Blinken's tour since it started. She connects us now from Jerusalem.
What do you make of what we just heard from the U.S. secretary of state there?
His comments, of course, coming in Ramallah.
HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, for the secretary of state, this visit was not only with the passing of president Mahmoud Abbas
was not only trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground but also a bit of reassurance to the Palestinians, that the Americans still support
the Palestinian Authority.
The Americans still support the two-state solution. The Americans are still there for them, despite the fact that there is this new right-wing
government in Israel, that, although the Americans have said they're going to judge them on their policies and not their personalities, it's pretty
clear that there is a bit of a difference of opinion between the Americans and the Israelis.
Yet, still, you saw Blinken standing alongside Benjamin Netanyahu and lauding him as part of his leadership.
But what we heard from Antony Blinken was no sort of grand pronouncement. Not that we were expecting any. He made comments about smaller steps they
are taking. He talked about an extra $50 million for the U.N. agency that works with the Palestinian refugees.
Talked about finally striking a deal to bring 4G to the West Bank. He talked about how they're still working to reopen the consulate. Those are
When you talk to Palestinians they say, great, we want that. But what they really want is the political horizon. I think what was interesting was to
hear from secretary of state Blinken that he acknowledges that that horizon is shrinking and not expanding, especially when you look at the political
situation in Israel.
There's no doubt that it's shrinking. Any sort of political horizon toward negotiations, I think, are shrinking by the day.
From the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, he blamed the Israeli government for the situation now. He says our people will not
accept occupation forever. And said they're willing to go to negotiations to return to 1967 borders.
As I said, that is increasingly unlikely, especially under this new right- wing government in Israel, that has some ministers who say they want to dismantle the Palestinian Authority entirely.
Any minute, now we're expecting to hear from the secretary of state himself, I don't think he's yet up on the podium. Hopefully, once he
actually gets some questions from the press, because this will be the first time he's taken questions from the media, hopefully we'll get a little bit
more specifics on what exactly he told both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The concrete steps that he thinks they need to take that will actually manage to dial down the temperature. I can tell, you temperature wise here
in Jerusalem, it's freezing, raining, dark. That's a little bit of the mood. The mood very much is that secretary of state Blinken will leave.
GOLD: Everything has been fine while he's here. They could potentially get worse once he takes off back to the United States -- Becky.
ANDERSON: And one of his priorities, he wrote about this in the meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, which our viewers can get online, you wrote
about surely one of his priorities, that being Blinken, while he is here, is to attempt to restore the security coordination between Israel and the
This was canceled by the PA after the recent deadly incursion into the West Bank. We heard nothing of, that was -- certainly we haven't today, perhaps
that will be something that is addressed when Antony Blinken addresses the media shortly.
What is the prospect, to your mind?
GOLD: Listen, the Palestinian Authority has canceled or stopped the security coordination in the past. They did it in 2020, when Israel
announced plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank as part of the Trump peace plan.
The Palestinian Authority also did so in 2017. In both instances, it was restored after some time. So the question will be now whether this freeze
will be for a few weeks, a few days or if it will be more of a freeze to the public and then behind the scenes kind of, on a person to person level,
still some coordination.
That is definitely going to be one of Secretary of State Blinken's top priorities or was when he met with the Palestinian leadership. The U.S.
State Department was very clear last week that they disagreed with the decision to cancel that security coordination.
The Americans see this as a vital, way one of the few tools, really, that they have of communication between the security forces that can help calm
the situation down.
I actually spoke to a, for that piece that you mentioned, to a retired colonel from the IDF, who was in charge in parts of the West Bank. He said
that one of his major concerns about canceling of the security coordination is not so much, yes, they do intel sharing.
But he's concerned about the trickle down effect to the lower level members of the Palestinian security forces, who may go out and then do something
else. He's concerned that, because there won't be a coordination, there won't be communication between the Palestinian Authority security forces
and the Israeli military.
The Israeli military, under the security coordination, will talk to the Palestinian Authority security forces and instruct them and say, hey, we're
going to go do this. He's worried about possible clashes between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority security forces if that coordination is not
restored -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Yes, it's that coordination that is one of the reasons that the PA, under its current leadership, experts on the region say, is rather
convenient for Washington. One expects those conversations then are being had behind the scenes. Hadas, thank you for the moment.
As I say, viewers, we will get to Antony Blinken's comments and the questions that he is likely to address from the gathered media in Ramallah
as soon as he starts speaking.
Meantime, one analyst calling it a national security crisis for Pakistan. The death toll is climbing a day after a suicide bombing in the northwest
city of Peshawar. At least 100 people were killed when an explosion ripped through this crowded mosque, located inside a police compound.
Funerals are being held today for some of the victims. It is still unclear who is behind the blast. The Pakistan Taliban, called the TTP, initially
claimed responsibility but then denied that. Sophia Saifi is following the story from Pakistan's capital. She joins us live now from Islamabad.
Let's talk about the latest on this rescue.
Are those involved still looking for survivors at this point, Sophia?
SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Becky, unfortunately, no. We've spoken to the officials on the ground in Peshawar and they told us, that at the moment,
there are now search efforts for bodies. But they don't expect any more people to be found alive within that rubble.
There were about 300 people packed within that mosque during afternoon prayers; 100people have died, over 200 injured. There is absolutely no
certainty as to who has done it.
There is, of course, concerns that it could be the Taliban. There have been various factions within the organization which have said that they were
behind it. Then the official spokesperson denied it -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Pakistan's Taliban first claiming responsibility and then denying it.
So to your mind and experts in the region, what is the story here?
SAIFI: Becky, what's interesting is the prime minister and even opposition leaders like Imran Khan, they've condemned the attack itself.
SAIFI: But they haven't explicitly named any organization. However, since November of last year, there was a cease-fire between the Pakistani state
and the Pakistani Taliban, which had fallen apart.
And there has been an incredible increase in attacks in the north of Pakistan, in the areas bordering Afghanistan, on small army checkposts.
There's been a daily increase in attacks by the Taliban. They've claimed responsibility for those attacks. And there has been a lot of uncertainty
and a lot of anxiety and high security level in cities, major cities like Peshawar, the capital, where I am.
In Islamabad, we've seen checkposts around every major traffic area. We've seen paramilitary troops walking around. There is a sense of deja vu about
what is going on here in Pakistan, which has seen many, many years of militancy since 9/11.
I spoke to an analyst from the Brookings Institute, who was based in D.C. She told me that the main issue at the moment is there have been successive
governments, which have had sloppy policies in dealing with the militant groups like the Taliban.
So there's a lot of anger. And people want answers as to why this kind of attack and this kind of fear has returned in Pakistan -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Yes, 10 past 8:00 in Islamabad, it is 10 past 7:00 here in the UAE. We're broadcasting from our Middle East programming hub in Abu Dhabi.
Just ahead, riot police are being called to a city in northern France as protesters across that country send a message to the Macron government.
And shot at and brutally beaten, an Iranian who's become a hero to protesters reveals his treatment at the hands of the regime. That exclusive
conversation is just ahead.
ANDERSON: Mass protests, a country gripped by chaos and anger in the streets, as thousands of protesters rally across France, as unions stage
another mass strike over the government's controversial pension plan.
Schools and transportation networks expect to be heavily disrupted for the second time this month. For its part, the government is not budging, saying
it needs the reforms to balance the books. The French capital expected to bear the brunt of these demonstrations. That is where we find CNN's Melissa
Bell reporting for us live.
A lot of angry people back on the streets, up and down the country. You are in Paris.
What are the expectations there?
MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, under parliamentary unions, they will get an even bigger turnout than they had on January 19th.
What they're saying, Becky, is that the last time they were just over 200 demonstrators across the country.
This time, they're closer to 275. (INAUDIBLE) here in Paris, a lot of people have appeared to turned. Out in terms of the strike action, it
appears a bit less than last. Time but of course the trade unions are striking. The (INAUDIBLE) but they want to keep the pressure on. But not
wanting to get the (INAUDIBLE) too much.
Still, today an important test, compared to what happened on January 19th.
BELL (voice-over): The last protests against pension reforms saw more than 1 million people take to the streets of France, according to official
Just over 10 days later, unions are hoping to top that.
They're also calling for strikes across the public and private sectors like the ones that paralyzed so much of the country on January 19th. But for
now, the government hasn't budged.
OLIVER VERAN, FRENCH GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We're not asking everyone to agree with the reform we're carrying out; what we
want is first of all, to explain, that this reform is essential. And that we must do it.
BELL (voice-over): Currently, the French can retire at 62 or even earlier in some cases with a minimum monthly government pension of around 1,000
Earlier this month, the French prime minister announced plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 with a full pension raised by an average of
100 euros a month.
STEPHANIE RIST, FRENCH MP (through translator): The reform is necessary because the accounts are in deficit from this year. Our pension system is
no longer balanced. And by 2027, we're looking at a deficit of roughly 12 billion euros.
BELL (voice-over): Pension reform has been derailed in the past. In 1995, under then president Jacques Chirac, it also faced stiff resistance under
Macron's two predecessors.
FRANCOIS HOMMERIL, PRESIDENT, CFE-CGC UNION (through translator): This reform comes at a time when there's a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, a
lot of fatigue. In fact, it comes at the worst time when living standards are down and the cost of living up.
For some people, shopping bills are up by 20 percent or 30 percent and rent hasn't fallen (ph) and all of that creates a climate of defiance.
BELL (voice-over): Largely, peaceful defiance so far but also anger with more than 70 people detained last time.
BELL: Now for this time, Becky, the protest is going peacefully. There's not even a hint of tear gas so far. In the air. I think that is down to
what we saw last time. The new policing strategy here in Paris certainly where the policeman are working with the trade union to try and keep it as
peaceful as they can.
And yet that pressure is still on the government. Trade unions determined that they will get it to back down on those pension reform that is as
controversial now as it was last time. (INAUDIBLE) managed to reform the pension system, raising it from 60 to 62. That move from 62 to 64 looks set
to be a challenge indeed.
ANDERSON: Melissa Bell is in Paris. Always a pleasure. Thank you very much indeed.
Folks, our next story contains graphic content you may find disturbing. An Iranian man, who was brutally beaten by security forces last year, told CNN
he had approached them to ask them to take a calmer stance toward demonstrators.
But they attacked him without warning. The young boxer nearly died but has since become a superhero to supporters of the protest movement. He spoke
exclusively to my colleague, Jomana Karadsheh, about what he went through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was one of the most terrifying videos to emerge, from Iran, a protester, surrounded
by armed regime forces, trying to fend them off, with a knife.
Shots are fired before he falls to his knees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Ashkan Morovati later appeared in intensive care, barely conscious, with his parents by his side.
ASHKAN MOROVATI, KURDISH IRANIAN PROTESTER (through translator): I had a severed artery, in my leg. I had around 200 shotgun pellets, in my body. I
had serious wounds.
Even after I surrendered and they arrested me, they beat me around 100 times, in the head and the rest of my body, with batons. When they were
transporting me, to the hospital, they shot me, from a very close range, with a shotgun. They thought that I'll be dead.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): But Ashkan survived and with him a tale of unimaginable horror.
MOROVATI (through translator): I was the man, who died and was brought back to life. As I'm speaking with you, I still have 20 shotgun pellets,
still lodged, in my body.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): He escaped Iran, now a wanted man, in hiding, speaking exclusively, to CNN.
For his safety, he won't say where he is.
MOROVATI (through translator): I got out of the country, through mountains and deserts, while heavily bleeding and in very, very bad condition. I died
so many times, before I got out of the country.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): As he lay in hospital, hanging on to life, by a thread, he was charged with Moharebeh, waging war against God, a crime
punishable by death, in the Islamic Republic.
Regime agents raided this hospital and dragged Ashkan to jail.
MOROVATI (through translator): When someone is taken from the ICU, straight to prison, this is kind of the death sentence.
In prison, I went through unbearable agony, because all my wounds were open. I used salt, to try to disinfect my wounds just a little bit.
They badly tormented me. They sent me to an army hospital that was not equipped to treat me. I was there in that condition with both my hands and
feet, chained to the bed.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): People, of his Kurdish town of Sanandaj protested for his release. His family paid all they have, to bail him out, for
medical treatment. And with the help of friends, he made it out of Iran.
MOROVATI (through translator): I was a professional boxer, a fighter. I was so eager, about my future and had a plan to pursue this sport, as a
career. But because my leg and the rest of my body, has been severely injured, I can't do that anymore.
Being away from my family and know the pressure that they have endured, because of me, is mentally tormenting me. I'm not feeling OK, physically or
KARADSHEH: What do you want the world to know, about what is happening, inside Iran, right now?
MOROVATI (through translator): There are so many like me, who, sadly, gave their life. But their voice didn't reach outside. There are so many brave
girls and boys inside Iran. Our only crime is that we demand freedom and democracy and want our women to be equal to our men.
We shouted "Women, life, freedom," and their response to us is only bullet, only torturing, raping prisoners.
I saw many young people, 16-year olds, 17-year olds get killed. They killed so many. They blinded so many. I swear to God, I can't sleep at night,
thinking about those things.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Ashkan remains undeterred. Once he recovers, he says, he's ready to go back and continue the fight for a free Iran.
MOROVATI (through translator): I have no regrets. And I am proud of what I did. I will give my life, for my people, for my Iran, not one time but
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.
ANDERSON: The Iranian government did not respond to CNN's request for comment on Ashkan's case. The widespread allegations of protesters being
mistreated, tortured and killed.
A total ruin: that is how a Ukrainian official described the eastern city of Bakhmut as the fighting there with Russian forces rages on. That
official says the Russians are killing everyone they can reach as they level the town.
Meantime the Ukrainian border guard (ph) say it has destroyed Russian trenches outside the city and turned them into, and I quote them here, "a
A former fighter with the Wagner mercenary group is describing the brutality he says he witnessed on the front lines in Ukraine, including the
ruthless treatment of reluctant Russian recruits. Wagner, a key player in Russia's invasion.
One of its former commanders, Andrei Medvedev, escaped to Norway, where he is now seeking asylum. He spoke exclusively with CNN's Anderson Cooper
about what he experienced on the battlefield.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREI MEDVEDEV, FMR WAGNER COMMANDER (through translator): We weren't receiving any tactical plans. We just got a command to capture the position
of the enemy and by ourselves had to come up with a step- by-step plan of how to fulfill it. It was our problem to ensure that a command is
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You have said in the past that, you saw Wagner troops getting executed for disobeying orders.
Is that accurate?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): Such cases happen very often there. There was a question of how to persuade new recruits who arrived at the front
lines and saw what is going on there and decided they don't want to fight, to still go ahead and fight.
They would round up those who did not want to fight and shoot them in front of the newcomers to develop their self-preservation instinct.
COOPER: Why did you decide to leave the Wagner Group?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): I planned to leave Wagner for a while but I didn't have the opportunity. I was afraid I will be captured and shot as a
traitor. I am ready for serious action but I also want to live.
By the end, I knew they won't let me go. I will return as part of the dead or the wounded.
MEDVEDEV (through translator): It was time to make a radical decision. If it wasn't for my guys, my comrades, I would have been buried at some
COOPER: Why have you agreed to talk?
What message do you want people to know about Wagner, about your experience?
MEDVEDEV (through translator): My idea was to tell the people what was happening there. And my mates who died there, they died under orders. So my
aim is that the people who are guilty of these crimes should be brought to justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Speaking to Anderson Cooper. Medvedev told him he saw courage on both sides of the war, including among Ukrainian forces.
With the new flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, is it too late to save the two state solution?
That is a question that I will pose to the U.N. special envoy for the peace process after this.
ANDERSON: Welcome back. I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi. The time here is just before 7:30. You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD and you are more than
U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken is decrying, and I quote him here, "a shrinking horizon of hope" for Palestinians and he says that needs to
Blinken spoke alongside Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas a day after he met with leaders in Israel. Today, Blinken pledged more aid for
Palestinians as well as a deal on 4G telecom services on his trip.
Took on new urgency after an uptick in Palestinian-Israeli violence started last week. We are waiting to hear from Blinken again anytime now before he
leaves the region. That podium is set up. He is delayed. We have been promising to get you to his words, his statements and his questions the --
questions that we are hoping that he will take from the gathered reporters just as soon as he starts.
It's just before half past 5:00 there in Jerusalem.
My next guest, the U.N. envoy for the Middle East peace process -- excuse me -- has been calling for calm in the face of violence.
Let me just hang on there. As I understand it, Secretary Blinken's begun to speak. Let's listen in.
BLINKEN: The United States is determined to work with our partners, to foster a more stable, secure and prosperous Middle East. The horrific
terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, the escalation of violence in the West Bank --
BLINKEN: -- have underscored the significant challenges to security and stability that the region faces and that we face.
We began this trip in Cairo, where I met with President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry as well as with Egyptian human rights defenders and young
Among a wide range of issues, in my meetings with the government, we discussed the role of Egypt and other neighbors can play in helping Israel
and Palestinians de-escalate, reduce tensions and lay the foundation for a more peaceful path.
Upon arriving in Israel, I expressed my condolences and those of the American people to Israel and to the families of the seven civilians who
were killed in the horrific terrorist attack outside a synagogue in Neve Yaakov.
In the wake of this and the subsequent attack on an Israeli father and son, I reaffirmed to Israel and its people the United States' ironclad
commitment to Israel's security. A rising tide of violence has resulted in the loss of many innocent lives on both sides.
As I discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and everyone I met in Israel and the West Bank, all sides must take steps to
prevent further escalation in violence and (AUDIO GAP).
That's the only way that we can create conditions in which people's sense of security will start to improve and fear can start to recede.
Across my meetings with Israel's government, the Palestinian Authority, our partners in Cairo, I heard a deep concern about the current trajectory. But
I also heard constructive ideas for practical steps that each side can take to lower the temperature, to foster greater cooperation, to bolster
And so I've asked senior members of my team to stay on in the region and continue discussions on how these steps might actually be advanced. These
are the steps that the parties themselves must lean on.
And we have no illusions that the heightened tensions can be diffused overnight. But we're prepared to support efforts here and with partners in
the region if the parties have the will to do so.
The United States is always ready and willing to be a partner in the cause of peace and security.
On my return home in the coming days, I'll also continue to engage with partners in the broader region who share our serious concerns about the
escalating cycle of violence and, like us, want to support the parties in finding a way forward.
So restoring calm is our immediate task. But over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions. The United States is committed to
working toward our enduring role of ensuring that the Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice
And it's President Biden's firm conviction that the only way to achieve that goal is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states
for two peoples.
The United States will continue to oppose anything that puts that goal further from reach, including but not limited to settlement expansion,
legalization of illegal outposts, moves toward annexation of the West Bank, disruption to the historic status quo on Jerusalem's holy sites,
demolitions and evictions and incitement and acquiescence to violence.
We will also support all efforts to move us closer to peace, expand a horizon of hope, advance equal rights and opportunities for Palestinians
That includes building on the efforts that we made over the past two years to improve the lives of the Palestinian people in concrete ways. We
bolstered our assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, including approximately $50 million in new
funding that I announced today in Ramallah.
Enabling the provision of essential services like food, vaccines, education as well as vital aid for refugees. That means U.S. funding for Palestinians
over the last two years to nearly $940 million.
We're supporting quality health care through the East Jerusalem hospital network. And we're making real progress toward implementing an agreement to
provide a 4G network in the Palestinian Territories.
We're also working to broaden and deepen the circle of peace between Israel and its neighbors. As we demonstrated earlier this month, when U.S.
officials joined representatives from Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates for the first meeting of the Negev foreign working
Again, this was the largest assemblage of officials from Arab countries and Israel since Madrid going back many decades. On crucial issues like food
and water security, clean energy, regional security, our efforts are creating collaboration that will improve the lives and livelihoods of
people across the region and erode long-standing biases and distrust.
BLINKEN: Even as we're making real strides toward expanding peace with Israel's neighbors, we continue to work together to tackle shared threats.
This morning, Mr. Shinskalant (ph) and I discussed ways to deepen our cooperation to confront and counter the Iranian regime's destabilizing
actions in the region and beyond.
I also met with opposition leader Lapid, who shares the same commitment to counter Iran.
Iran's deepening ties with Moscow and the sophisticated weaponry that they're exchanging to enable one another's aggression are among the many
reasons that we raise with Israel the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine's needs -- humanitarian, economic and security as it defends
its people against Russia's brutal war of aggression.
We discussed a number of ways to advance the United States' and Israel's security interests. Just as I did yesterday at my meetings with the prime
minister. With president Herzog and with foreign minister Cohen.
Across these discussions I made clear that America's commitment to Israel's security is unwavering, just as it is been for nearly 75 years.
Finally, the United States will continue to deepen our bonds here with partners outside of government. Today I had the opportunity to spend time
with Palestinian and Palestinian American civil society leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners in Nadardwan (ph), who shared the vital work
they are doing to improve the lives of their communities.
And I started my day by hearing from a group of young Israeli leaders, Jews and Arabs, who are doing aspiring, incredible work for advancing LGBTQ
rights and the rights of people with disabilities, to building trust and ties between communities.
These meetings were a reminder that the civil society in both of our countries plays an indispensable role in defending and strengthening the
rights of people and principles at the heart of a free and open society and helping people tackle some of the most pressing challenges.
It's a reminder of how citizens are willing to continue to engage, to hold their leaders accountable and to keep working to create the world that they
and their communities want. They can count on the United States as a partner in all of those endeavors.
With that I'm happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for taking this time as I don't know you've had a couple of very busy days (INAUDIBLE).
You just mentioned the deep concern (INAUDIBLE) you saw here. And in your meetings, both with Israeli officials and the people and Palestinian
officials and people, I wanted to dig a little deeper into that.
Do you (INAUDIBLE) understand Israelis who fear that some of the actions of their new government threaten democracy here and that the meeting with
prime minister Netanyahu, do you believe that he can, wants to preserve democracy?
And on the Palestinian side, Palestinians are increasingly disillusioned with a two-state solution. Many have given up on it, convinced that Israel
will never let it happen. Yet you continue to advocate it, as you just did a minute ago.
After meeting with president Abbas, do you think he is the person to resolve the statehood issue, to diffuse the tensions and to fight
In other words, do you have confidence in him and in the Palestinian Authority?
BLINKEN: Thanks. Let me take the second part of the question first and then come to the first part.
Look, As always, we're focused on the policies that governments' administrations pursue, not individual personalities and so we're focused
on what the Palestinian Authority is doing, both to work to improve the lives of the Palestinian people as well as to engage responsibly with
Israel on, first and foremost, defusing the current situation, the current cycle of violence; reducing tensions, not escalating them; calming things
down, not ramping things up.
That is the immediate focus. And we heard both from Palestinians, including President Abbas, as well as from the Israelis, some ideas for how that --
how we can move that forward, which is why I asked some of my colleagues to stay behind, to support the efforts that are being made to calm things
down. That's really the first order of business.
And my hope is that, if that succeeds, then we can look to both sides to take some positive steps to try to rebuild confidence, rebuild trust.
BLINKEN: And that, in turn, lays the foundation for at some point pursuing two states. But I think in this moment, the most immediate challenge is, as
I said, diffusing the cycle of violence that has people, here first and foremost but around the region, deeply concerned.
As I said, the -- President Biden remains committed to and convinced of the importance of a two-state solution. But one step at a time. We have to
focus first on making sure that Israelis and Palestinians diffuse the current situation. And then start to build some positive steps into their
With regard to the first part of the question, and I think you heard me address this yesterday, the relationship we have with Israel is based
fundamentally on shared interests and shared values. And it's been that way for 75 years.
I spoke about some of those values yesterday, including respect for human rights, equal justice under the law, equal rights for all, the rule of law,
free press, a robust civil society.
And as I mentioned I had an opportunity to engage with some representatives of civil society just today. And to be sure, Israel has a very robust civil
society. We've seen that in recent days. And again I saw that today at my own -- in my own meetings.
With regard to the proposed reforms, there is clearly a very vibrant debate that's going on, a discussion that's going on in Israel. And these debates
are a very healthy part of a vibrant democracy. In, fact they're unique to democracies.
And as democracies, one of the things that we recognize is that building consensus on new proposals is the best way to make sure that not only are
they embraced but that they actually endure.
All of this, of course, is for Israelis themselves to work out. But we look forward, generally speaking, to working with Israel to advance the
interests and values that have been of the heart of this relationship, as I said, for 75 years.
ANDERSON: We're just going to switch out the signals here. I want you viewers to get a real sense of what's being said here. And we have a better
signal. That's not the best one. So let's just swap this out for you and ensure that you can hear exactly what is being said and what indeed is
You are listening to Antony Blinken, of course. He says the most immediate challenge in Israel and the West Bank is diffusing the cycle of violence.
He said we need to focus on that first before we address anything else. Let's listen in again.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). And another question regarding the escalation (ph) (INAUDIBLE) office and announce after the terror attacks that they will
promote (INAUDIBLE) the settlements and increase the number of guns (INAUDIBLE).
Do you think this (INAUDIBLE) to another escalation?
BLINKEN: Two things: what I talked about yesterday and again talked about just now reflects the shared values that the United States and Israel have
had and held for more than 75 years. And it is nothing more and nothing less than that.
And I continue to be inspired by the vibrancy with which Israel shares those values, something that again we're seeing -- we're seeing right now.
And I think I can say the same thing about my own country, the United States.
With regard to the second part of your question, we have been clear and consistent in our conviction that neither side should take any unilateral
actions that, right now, potentially, would add fuel to a fire.
And over the medium to long term, would make the prospects of achieving two states even more distant than they currently are.
BLINKEN: Thank you. On Iran, we have, Israel and the United States, a shared commitment; one, that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon and, two,
that we continue to stand together with other countries as well, against the many destabilizing and dangerous actions that Iran has engaged in, in
the region and, now, increasingly beyond.
One of the -- one of those actions is what we talked about, was the provision by Iran to Russia of drones and technology to be used in Russia's
aggression against Ukraine.
And as I mentioned before -- and as we also discussed with our Israeli counterparts -- this is a two-way street. Not only is Iran providing
sophisticated military equipment to Russia but Russia, in turn, is doing the same with Iran, which is, of course, a real concern to us and a real
concern to Israel.
So we continued what has been an ongoing discussion of ways that we can continue to work together, collaborate -- and not just us; with other
countries, encountering the malicious actions that Iran is engaged in, whether it's in this region or beyond.
With regard to what I heard on this trip, no, I am not going to detail the ideas. But I think there are some quite good (ph) ideas from both sides
that, if pursued, would really help diffuse the current situation.
And it's why I asked some of my colleagues to stay behind, to support the efforts that both parties are making, to try to get to a better path. It is
fundamentally up to them. They have to -- they have to work together to find a path forward that, as I said, both diffuses the current cycle of
violence and I hope also leads to positive steps that each can take to build back some trust, build back some confidence, to help make material
improvement of people's lives, to foster a greater sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
That will take time. The immediate task, as I said, is to diffuse the cycle of violence. And if both sides are genuinely committed to it, I think
there's steps that they can take and that, we heard from them, that would help achieve that.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) here on behalf of my colleagues. (INAUDIBLE). I would like to remind you all (INAUDIBLE) and the meetings that are
highlighting the importance of (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE). Thank you.
BLINKEN: Thank you.
All I can tell you is that we have long been and remain opposed to unilateral steps by either side that, in the first instance, actually fuel
tensions and lead to, I think, a more dangerous environment for everyone and that fundamentally make more difficult and more distant the prospect of
moving toward two states.
So that has not changed. I repeated that in my meetings throughout my stay here, as I just did now. And again, we look to both sides, not to take
steps that actually make things worse. And as well, to take some positive steps that can create a better path forward for both Israelis and
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Thank you, everyone.
BLINKEN: Thank you.
ANDERSON: All right, well, you've been listening to the U.S. secretary of state, talking about how important it is to end the current cycle of
ANDERSON: He says, before that, before calm is restored to Israel and the West Bank, before the situation is reined in, there will be very little
opportunity to achieve anything further.
He has repeated the message time and again throughout his time on the ground, that the United States has an ironclad commitment to Israel's
security. But, he says, all sides must take steps to restore calm and reduce the violence.
Some will say those are empty words, given the real tinderbox atmosphere that we know to exist in the region at present.
Do we still have our guest, Tor Wennesland, available to us?
Yes, we do. Let me get you to our guest. It's important that we get Tor's perspective here.
You are the U.N. special envoy for the peace process. You're in Jerusalem. You have just heard the words of the U.S. secretary of state.
What do you make of what you heard?
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. SPECIAL COORDINATOR FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS: Well, first of all, thank you, Becky, for having me on your program.
Let me reiterate what the secretary said, and which is the line of the U.N. and the U.N. secretary general. I mean, there is a need, immediately, for
responsible leadership and to address the escalating hot spots that we have had with us for a time and that has led to the current degree of
instability on the ground.
And I would like to underline that this is a very serious situation. It is not kind of like this, that will be limited necessarily only to the West
Bank if we don't stop it. There is a potential for a much wider escalation if we're not addressing the situation on the ground in Jerusalem.
In Al-Aqsa, the Temple Mount area, we are running into the holiday season. And we need to have plans for how to deal with that situation as well.
I would also underline one thing that we have seen before, where the U.N. has been deeply involved. We have seen a situation spreading from the West
Bank into Gaza with serious military escalation. That can easily happen again if we're not taking the current situation of instability superbly
I welcome the visit --
ANDERSON: -- immediate challenge just diffusing that current cycle of violence. I want you to be very specific here.
What needs to be done?
Because we keep hearing that this immediate challenge is diffusing the violence, the cycle of violence. But it continues, as you say.
What needs to happen next?
What is your message?
WENNESLAND: Well, the first thing we need to see is a lower military activity at the West Bank. There are spoilers at the West Bank that are
driving the conflicts. We need to see that addressed.
There need to be security coordination that can allow for the situation on the ground to calm down.
Secondly, we cannot have a situation where settlements are further expanded, because that is creating tension.
Number three, there need to be a stop in house demolitions and evictions of families because that is driving tension and it's not calming down.
And there need to be a specific action taken in order to keep status quo at the holy sites and to police that properly, so we don't have a conflict
that is spreading into the religious life of people, not only here but in the region.
All these messages need to be taken.
ANDERSON: OK, what -- yes, this is really important because let me just go through point by point.
At present, the PA has suspended that security coordination with the Israelis. We have to assume that Antony Blinken has talked about that
behind the scenes and has impressed upon the PA and Mahmoud Abbas just how important that is, to your point.
At present, that doesn't exist. At present, there is an appetite and a plan to expand settlements. There is no ambition, it seems, to stop house
The status quo, you might get a personal commitment on that from Bibi Netanyahu to the king of Jordan.
ANDERSON: 000And as we understand, that was certain in discussion when the Israeli prime minister went to Jordan recently.
But quite frankly, everything else you've laid out at present doesn't look realistic with this new right-wing Israeli government, does it?
WENNESLAND: Well, I'm not looking at it from that perspective. I think engagement of the U.S., as we've seen over the last two days, is superbly
important to change that trajectory.
I think the involvement of the region, Jordan and Egypt, is going in the same direction. U.N. is also involved in any effort that can lead to a
deescalation. I am not taking status quo after a given (ph). We need to work on the issues that are so far not resolved.
And it takes responsible leadership on both sides and bold actions that we haven't seen too much about recently. But we have to underline that
message. And we have to engage the international community behind it. So I'm not taking --
ANDERSON: You're absolutely right to, yes, I'm sorry, let me just jump in.
You're absolutely right to impress upon our viewers that it will need, you know, bold steps by both sides, both leaderships, to ensure that some
progress is made.
But let's be quite frank here, sir. There is a new, likely most right-wing- ever Israeli government at present. An it is difficult to assess the Biden administration's position on that very right-wing government and the impact
that its policies could have on the current situation.
I mean, Antony Blinken talked about the very vibrant civil society; he is obviously talking about the demonstrations we've seen, both in Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem, against this very right-wing government and its potential policies.
He's talked about a healthy debate in parliament. It feels like he is talking about the reforms to the judiciary that this right-wing government
is likely to try and push through.
How important is it?
And I know, you know, you're unlikely to want to address this question head-on. But let me try this.
How important is it for the U.S. administration that they see very quickly what these new policies from this very right-wing Israeli government are
going to look like?
And how concerned do you think they are about those policies and their impact on this current situation?
Apologies for the length of that question.
WENNESLAND: Well, first of all, we would have to see what will be implemented and how the Israeli government is going to deal with the
That is something we will see pan out over the next weeks and months. I am not going into whatever internal discussions there are on the Israeli side.
My focus is on getting stuff done on the ground.
And I fully support the line of action taken by Blinken in this regard at this meeting. And I would like to underline again that both the Israeli
situation is complicated internally; the Palestinian situation is complicated internally.
That's why I'm saying that we need bold leadership. And we need a clear program and an agenda for hope to restore calm and get out of the mess that
we're in now.
ANDERSON: Two states, Antony Blinken said, is where the U.S. administration is headed.
Is that a reality to your mind at this point, a two state solution?
Because most experts in this region will say that's over.
WENNESLAND: Well, that is a popular view, I have noticed. But I see no one, no one politician in Israel that would like to take over the
responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza, for the refugee camps that are hotspots. I don't see that at all.
And I don't see Palestinians that want to be governed by an Israeli government, whatever color that government may have or not have.
So we're in a situation where actually the obvious solution to this is to look at how we can get toward a two-state reality and start a serious
discussion about the future, not only about the present and the past.
We haven't had that strategic discussion for a long time. --