Return to Transcripts main page
Secretary Of State Blinken Speaks In Israel; U.S. Pushes Allies To Help Recover Hostages; U.S. In Talks With Egypt Over Civilian Corridor; NYPD, Jewish Institutions Step Up Security Amid Threat Call From Former Hamas Leader. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired October 12, 2023 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SHAUN TANDON, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT, AFP: Was that discussed at all in terms of the humanitarian situation in Gaza? Was there any call for easing some of these conditions or for restraint, as we expect a ground offensive?
And if you'll allow me just one thing that's been reported just recently, there was a report in The Washington Post that the United States and Qatar have decided to slow down or suspend the access that Iran has to the $6 billion that's been put in the special account. Could you say if this is accurate? And if it is, could you explain whether this is a slowdown or something more formal than that? Thanks very much.
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Great. Thanks, Shaun (ph). So we did see photographs, videos, that the Israeli government shared with us. Some, I think, has actually already been seen in public media. Others were new to me and, I think, new to our team.
It's hard to find the right words. It's beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, God forbid, experience. A baby, an infant, riddled with bullets. Soldiers beheaded. Young people burned alive in their cars or in their hideaway rooms.
I could go on, but it's simply depravity in the worst imaginable way. It almost defies comprehension, and as I've been saying, to me, it -- in the most immediate future, hearkens back to ISIS and some of the very things we saw when it was on its rampage that, thankfully, was stopped.
So I think for any human being to see this, it's really beyond almost anything that we can comprehend, digest. And I'd just add that when you see this, you try to imagine -- maybe not try, you can't help but imagine -- yourself, your family, your loved ones, your friends, in that situation, in that predicament. And maybe the best word for it for me is overwhelming.
I think what it's done is, as I said, united a country in profound grief, but also united a country in resolve. And it's imperative that the rest of us share that resolve. I said this earlier, this is a moment for moral clarity. This is a moment where everyone needs to make clear that there is revulsion, disgust, and a determination, a determination not to allow this to go forward.
So images are worth a thousand words. These images may be worth a million.
On the humanitarian situation in Gaza, I think it's, first, important to remember a fundamental issue that makes this complicated. Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields -- something that's not new, something that they've always done -- intentionally putting civilians in harm's way to protect -- to try to protect themselves, or protect their infrastructure, or protect their weapons.
So that's one of the basic facts that Israel has to deal with. And of course, civilians should not be used in any way as the targets of military operations. They are not the target of Israel's operations.
We did discuss ways to address the humanitarian needs of people living in Gaza, to protect them from harm while Israel conducts its legitimate security operations to defend itself from terrorism and to try to ensure that this never happens again.
We also talked about possibilities for safe passage for civilians who want to leave or get out of the way in Gaza, and that's a conversation, a discussion, that we will pursue in the coming days, including with some of the countries that we'll be visiting. So this is important, and this is an area for focus.
With regard to the $6 billion, first, again, it's always worth repeating the facts, because, unfortunately, the facts get lost along the way. The money that Iran accrued in bank accounts, in this case in South Korea, for the sale of its oil was done pursuant to an arrangement established by the previous administration, the Trump administration.
None of the funds that have now gone to Qatar have actually been spent or accessed in any way by Iran. Indeed, funds from that account are overseen by the Treasury Department, can only be dispensed for humanitarian goods -- food, medicine, medical equipment -- and never touch Iranian hands. We have strict oversight of the funds, and we retain the right to freeze them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next question goes to Gil Tamary with Channel 13.
GIL TAMARY, JOURNALIST, CHANNEL 13: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Gil Tamary, Channel 13 Israel. The President compared, rightfully, Hamas horrendous massacre to ISIS. Can you provide assurance to Israel that the Biden administration will not attempt to halt Israel effort until the goal of eliminating Hamas from Gaza is completely achieved, regardless of how long it may take?
And with your permission, second question. If Hezbollah opens a second front in the north, can we expect that if needed the U.S. will use its military assets in the region to fight against Hezbollah together with the IDF? BLINKEN: OK. Thank you. With regard to the first question, the President's been very clear, I've been very clear, we stand with Israel. We stand with Israel in its determination to defend its people, defend its country. We stand with Israel in its determination to do everything possible to ensure that what happened on Saturday never happens again.
And in that determination, we're, of course, as you know, providing assistance as requested by Israel for its efforts. That will continue, and we're working closely with Congress to make sure that Israel has what it needs to do what it must.
With regard to the second front, as I mentioned earlier, it's our determination and that of Israel as well that there not be a second front or a third front. And we are working as hard as we can, working with other partners in the region, to try to ensure that that's the case.
The President has also been very clear, President Biden. He's been very clear that no one, state or non-state actor, should try to take advantage of this moment. And he's backed up that warning with a deployment of our largest carrier group, the Gerald R. Ford, as well as, again, making sure that Israel has what it needs and that we also have appropriate assets in place. Beyond that, I'm not going to speculate on future events.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the next question, Ed Wong with The New York Times.
ED WONG, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIME: Hi. Thank you, Secretary Blinken.
WONG: Many people have likened the horrendous violence by Hamas to the attacks of 9/11 in the U.S. As you know, the U.S. earned lots of goodwill after those attacks, and there was -- were many expressions of solidarity for the U.S. from around the world. But soon afterwards, the U.S. squandered that goodwill when it began its invasion of Iraq.
And now decades onward, in retrospect, many people think that the most lasting consequences of 9/11 were the two wars that many Americans deem were disasters in hindsight. And so I wonder what lessons might you have for Israel, as a friend of Israel, looking back at the aftermath of 9/11?
Second, I wonder whether your team has an assessment of what Hamas's goals were in carrying out the attacks and whether it has gotten any closer to those goals with these attacks?
BLINKEN: OK. Thanks, Ed. First, let me say this, with regard to 9/11. If you look at this in proportion to the size of Israel's population, this is the equivalent of ten 9/11s. That's how big and how devastating this attack has been. And of course, each of these situations is very different and it's important to keep that in mind. Of course, we're always trying to draw the lessons from our -- from past experience, as they may or may not be applicable to what we or our partners are doing now.
And of course, we're in very close conversation with Israel about the work it's undertaking, as I said, to make sure it can defend itself, defend its citizens, and to the best of its ability ensure that this doesn't happen again. Those are the objectives. And, again, I'll leave the operational details to Israel and simply say again, that as we have these discussions, we're looking at past experiences, including many past experiences more immediate to this challenge, including in Gaza and including in the region.
With regard to the goals of Hamas, I think that is a question mostly on which I could speculate but not give you a -- any kind of clear and definitive answer. There are a number of possible explanations. We have not heard from them what their goals are. And I have to tell you that in many ways the simplest explanation may be the most compelling, this is pure evil.
There may be second or third-order interests. For example -- I've noted this before -- we've been engaged, as you know, in trying to support and advance the possibility of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other countries that do not yet have normalized relations with Israel. Something that is very challenging, very difficult, but also very possible.
And something that would have a profound effect on the region, on the countries in question and on the region -- a region that's been in turmoil for so many decades that through normalization, through greater integration then has a path to much greater stability, much greater peace, much greater opportunity for everyone in the region.
Now, who opposes normalization? Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran. I think that speaks volumes as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the final question goes to Christine Rinawi with Al Arabiya News.
CHRISTINE RINAWI, CORRESPONDENT, AL ARABIYA NEWS: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, can you discuss what Netanyahu -- the need for Israel to commit to international law on the war in Gaza and any more details about the humanitarian corridors in Gaza?
And following on my colleague question, the spokesperson of the White House retracted President Biden's claim of seeing pictures of beheaded children, but today you mentioned in your press conference about the babies slaughtered and the woman raped. Did you see the evidence of that? Thank you.
BLINKEN: Thank you. To the first part of your question, I think you've heard the President address this. I've also addressed it in different ways, which is to say this. For democracies like the United States, like Israel, it's vitally important that we respect and follow international law, humanitarian law, the law of war, as applicable. And it's a standard that we hold ourselves to and it's a standard that we look to, including if and when we fall short of it.
So this is something that motivates both of us, and of course it's what distinguishes us and other democracies around the world from terrorist organizations like Hamas, which have absolutely no regard for the rule of law, for humanitarian rules and rights, for any basic standards of human decency.
On the contrary, as we were discussing just a few minutes ago, they quite literally and deliberately target civilians, and not just target civilians -- target them in the most inhumane ways possible -- and at the same time, use them as human shields. So that's a profound distinction between our countries and a group like Hamas.
When it comes to the photographs, the videos, I described what I saw today. That doesn't mean it's the entire universe. We had an opportunity to see some of the photographs and videos. Unfortunately, there are many, many, many others, and every day the world is seeing new evidence of the depravity and inhumanity of Hamas.
Depravity and inhumanity directed at babies, at small children, at young adults, at elderly people, at people with disabilities. The list goes on, and on a basic human level, how anyone cannot be revolted and cannot reject what they've seen and what the world has seen, it's beyond me. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You've been listening to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking and asking -- excuse me -- answering questions from reporters during his trip to Israel speaking there. And very, very stark terms, meaning the moment of a very stark situation saying this is pure evil.
That was probably the headline quote out of the discussion that he just had here, when he was asked about the motivation of Hamas. And his answer was it's probably the most compelling answer that this is pure evil, but then also said perhaps it was an attack also to disrupt a pending deal, normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to that, he made clear as he has done both here before he left the United States and in Israel, that the United States stands by Israel, and in particular, as to the questions of how aggressive the Israeli response should be, given the atrocities, the barbarism that we saw on Saturday.
I want to now go to Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. He is standing by on Capitol Hill. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, sir. I know you were able to listen to the Secretary of State. I should tell our viewers you are the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
First, let me just get you on something that the Secretary of State didn't say there. But he's been asked about before, which is the hostages that are -- the American citizen hostages -- that are still unaccounted for. As somebody who is the beneficiary of the so-called Gang of Eight briefings, you get top secret briefings on intelligence, is there any information that you are getting that gives you hope about these hostages?
REP. JIM HIMES (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Well, Dana, it's still too early to tell. You know, we don't know the identities. There are people who are missing at some point. You assume that they have probably been taken hostage, so we just don't know enough.
What we do know, of course, is that this is going to be a brutal situation. Hamas is not stupid. They will not have concentrated hostages, they will have spread them out. They will probably be underground in ways that are very hard to identify them.
You know, the bright spot here is that the United States has mobilized as the Secretary said, all of our capabilities to do precisely that, to find out where they are, to do all that we tend to break them home, whether that's through diplomatic negotiations, or ultimately through more kinetic operations. We are not leaving anybody behind. The Israelis, of course, are very, very good at that as well.
And look, at the end of the day, Hamas has a choice to make right now. They are rightly being condemned by anybody with moral sensibility on this planet. And they need to make a choice right now as to whether they want to go down in history as another ISIS as a nihilistic, brutal sect that, by the way, should be utterly rejected by the Palestinian people.
And the Palestinian people also have a choice to make about how they tolerate the activities of Hamas or do they want to engage and try to restore some semblance of credibility of decency.
BASH: Is that possible at this point? I mean, didn't that ship sail on Saturday?
HIMES: They ship sailed. But, again, the leadership of Hamas are making practical decisions. And, you know, no human being ceases to have agency. And I do think that the leadership of Hamas can make this a lot worse for them, or better.
And by the way, that applies to people in the orbit of Hamas, you know. As well known, you know, the Turks, the cutleries, our allies, our friends have over time provided economic aid to Hamas. They too have a choice to make. They too are part of this.
And so my point is that, you know, all resources that we have have to be mobilized to get whatever American hostages may be held home.
BASH: Let me ask you, something I was already planning on asking you but the Secretary of State was asked as well about the -- and you're just alluding to this, the regional partners that the U.S. has, and frankly, the Arab nations who are in the neighborhood of Gaza, particularly Egypt. And the question of getting citizens, Americans who are in Gaza, Palestinian civilians, out of Gaza.
Obviously, Tony Blinken is going to be making those please when he has discussions in Egypt and elsewhere around the region. Any progress ahead of this visit that you you know of should the world be hopeful that that is a possibility?
HIMES: Well, what I can tell you, Dana, is two things. Number one, an awful lot depends on where this goes in the next couple of days. If we have seen the worst of the violence, and this stabilizes, and the threat therefore, to Americans, both in Gaza and in Israel are -- is reduced. That's a very different scenario than for example, if Hezbollah were to make the mistake to get involved here. Very, very different scenarios.
Obviously, the government is planning for all of those scenarios. I do think that they will have more to say about additional ways for Americans in Israel to get out. Of course, your question was about Americans in Gaza and that's much more complicated because --
BASH: And Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
HIMES: And -- well, right, right, absolutely. And we need to be 100 percent clear here, Dana, our moral standing. When we condemn unconditionally, the brutal murder and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians can't be attenuated if there is the brutal murder of Palestinian civilians.
No civilian is lesser or more worthy of our moral acknowledgment. However, the practical situation on the ground is that you have a band of terrorists that Israel will be and should eradicate, and, you know, hopefully do it in a way. And I have a lot of confidence in the way the Israelis think about the value of human life in contrast to Hamas. All of this creates a very, very difficult situation, both for the Israelis as well as for Palestinian civilians and hostages and Americans and other nationalities that are in that are in Gaza.
BASH: Yes, they have the most complex of situations, no question about it. And you mentioned Hezbollah, we should also underscore at the very public warning that we just heard, which you added to that, Secretary Blinken put out there for the world that they're at the expectation. And the hope is that there won't be a second front in the north of Israel, that Hezbollah will not use this as a time to move in.
Thank you so much. Appreciate your time. And thank you for waiting. And --
HIMES: Thank you.
BASH: And I now want to go back to security concerns here in the U.S. that anti-Semitic violence will potentially descend on centers of Jewish life here in the United States of America. And again, John Miller, you're another one who I had to interrupt because of Tony Blinken coming up. You were saying before that about the sources that you're talking to about any specific, credible threats.
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So right now, we don't have any specific credible threats to any location, or plot, currently, and that is basically across the country. But that is a point of evaluation literally minute by minute as they watch the forums and the chat rooms and the places where these threads emanate from.
Dana, you've seen a message that came out on the 10th from the former head of Hamas, calling for Friday, the 13th, to be a Global Day of Anger, calling on Arabs and Muslims across the world to show their anger for the Al-Aqsa flood.
There is no specific call in that to commit any acts of violence. It's interpreted as a calling for global protest but there's been a lot of internet traffic that is given concern to law enforcement authorities. So in places like New York City on Friday, they've ordered all 33,000 police officers, no matter whether their assignment is detectives, plainclothes intelligence, to show up in uniform and be available if they have to be mobilized, not anticipating that, but they want to be ready.
BASH: And how rare is that, what you just described having every rank and file, New York City police officer ready, just in case?
MILLER: It's fairly rare. And I think in the period of time, where we've been through COVID, and we've been through the post George Floyd demonstrations and so much turmoil, it's become less rare. So it is a little bit of a go-to when you might need additional forces.
BASH: And, John, I just want to say because we're out of time that you were also talking and you mentioned this at the top of your report about increased chatter on some of the internet sites where this kind of thing occurs, where I know everybody in law enforcement is paying very, very close attention.
John Miller, I'm sure you will be back on as you learn more from your sources. Let's hope that those warnings do not actually come to bear. Thank you so much for being with me.
Thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.