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Quest Means Business

Netanyahu Rejects Ceasefire Offer From Hamas; Senate Border And Foreign Aid Bill Fails To Move Forward; Kremlin Confirms Putin Interview By Tucker Carlson; Secretary Of State Blinken Speaks On Israel-Hamas Conflict; New Proposed Ukrainian Draft Law Passes First Hurdle. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 15:00   ET



PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: You know, the markets are eking out a pretty good day here if we take you to the big board, almost a half a

percent up on the Dow, the real story though in the S&P, which is nearing a record. Those are the markets and these are the main events.

The US Secretary of State says there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and Tony Blinken is due to

speak shortly, we will bring you that live.

US lawmakers are expected to vote down a bipartisan border deal opposed by former President Trump. It includes billions for Ukraine and Israel.

And pressing question here: How much is too much to pay for a French fry. Customers start to push back against fast food inflation.

Live from New York, it is Wednesday, February 7th. I'm Paula Newton, in for Richard Quest and this is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.

Good evening.

And we are expecting to hear from the US Secretary of State. Any moment now, Antony Blinken has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders

today as Hamas releases its proposal to bring an end to the conflict.

We will bring you that press conference once it begins. You are seeing a live picture of the podium right now. We do expect him to reach that podium

very soon.

And all of this comes after the Israeli Prime Minister rejected an offer from Hamas for a ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, he promised to achieve,

"complete victory" in a matter of months.

Benjamin Netanyahu argues that agreeing to Hamas' demands would lead to more violence. Listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Continuing pressure -- military pressure is a necessary condition, surrendering to the

Hamas' unbelievable demands will only ask for another disaster for the state of Israel, another massacre.


NEWTON: Nic Robertson has been watching all of these developments from Tel Aviv. Nic, good to have you with us.

I mean, look, no one expected Netanyahu, right, to embrace this three-part proposal, but does he risk testing US patience here? I mean, Blinken is on

the ground right now, as we've been saying, trying to hammer something out. Something that both obviously pleases the families of hostages and of

course, does something to give some kind of relief to the dire situation in Gaza.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think there is an indication that the Secretary of State is trying to sort of find ways to

get done what the United States wants to get done, even if it isn't with the prime minister. He met late this evening with Yoav Gallant, the defense

minister here and actually Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked the question about did he mind Secretary of State Blinken meeting separately with the

defense minister, which is something that is done in the past and trying to meet with some of the military chiefs separately as well, and Netanyahu

said, well, that's not the normal course of events. It's not the sort of thing I do.

But it does create the impression that, you know, Secretary Blinken is looking for a diplomatic way through here and we heard from the prime

minister -- the Israeli prime minister saying very clearly that there has been no agreement to Hamas' demands, particularly on prisoners, not the

numbers, not the type of prisoners, those with blood on their hands.

He said that negotiations are a process and he doesn't see Hamas involved and engaged in that process.

So you might take the Prime Minister's very hardline sounding statements this evening as the avenue, the process, and Hamas' proposal is dismissed

completely out of hand.

I think the reality might be slightly different, that there might be some wiggle room here and that is what Secretary Blinken is undoubtedly looking


Hamas has already sent one of their senior operators from Gaza to Cairo to get feedback from the Egyptians, undoubtedly from the Qataris ultimately,

too, but in particular, they'll want to hear back what Israel and what the United States is saying about the proposal.

But the mood music tonight from Tel Aviv, from the prime minister, is that what Hamas is asking for this three-phase approach where there will be 45

days for each phase. The first phase would be for the release of the women, children, elderly, and the sick. The second phase, if it got there would be

the release of all the male hostages including civilians and military officers, and then the final third phase, 45 days later after that would be

the return of the deceased, the dead hostages.


Hamas wants a lot in the meantime, they want the humanitarian aid corridors opened up, they want 60,000 ready to go homes brought in to Gaza in those

first 45 days, 200,000 tents, but they also want Israel to pull back its military forces in Gaza, back out of the populated areas to stop military

activities, stop drone activities, and begin to negotiate and talk about a full ceasefire.

And again, this has also been a red line for the Israeli government. So where the windows of opportunity to move forward aren't clear, but is it

going to be around the numbers and types of prisoners that Israel might release is the phased approach, which was the approach that was put on the

table for Hamas, which they seem to have embraced the phased approach.

Is that going to be the right way to ultimately move this situation forward? But the concern for Secretary Blinken today has been to understand

from the military, from the Army chief-of-staff, from the head of Mossad, undoubtedly from the defense minister, what happens with your next military

move into Rafah where there are about 1.3 million people, a million of them living in plastic-sheeted tents, which is where the Hamas leadership is

believed to be, and the hostages are believed to be in Rafah right close to the border with Egypt.

What's going to happen when that military operation goes ahead, when is it going to go ahead? How are you going to protect the civilians that, of

course occupying Secretary Blinken's attention here, but the hope would be from the United States side, at the very least, that before that Rafah

ground operation could happen, movement would be made on a deal, but standing here tonight, it's hard to see that happening that quickly.

NEWTON: They certainly do still seem far apart. Nic, I want to ask you, I know you have been talking to the families of hostages. We have seen in the

last few months, they have been so persuasive, where even the United States has not had any sway, right, in getting Netanyahu and his War Cabinet to

get to common ground.

Do you see that they might be successful again here?

ROBERTSON: No, I don't. They feel that the prime minister is absolutely set on his path of victory the way he wants it, and they feel that their loved

ones are expendable in that plan.

You know, the military, the prime minister all say that that's not the case. They'll do everything that they can, but for the families, it feels

that way. I have to say, you know, one of the hardest things about covering the situation here, not least watching, obviously, the deprivations of

everything that happens in Gaza and the terrible conditions for people there, but when you talk to the families who've got hostages being held by

Hamas, it's the pain and suffering that they're still going through.

They are reduced people. Their lives are reduced and as they say, there is just sort of -- you know, the world is moving on and in a way life is

moving on, but they are standing still waiting for those -- waiting for their loved ones to be released and they really don't feel that the prime

minister is listening to them on that.

NEWTON: Yes, some stark realities there. Another stark reality, we were talking about Rafah, right, Nic and Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in his

press conference that it seems that that is the next place where in his words, they will go after Hamas militants.

Given Rafah, I mean, I just did an interview in the last few hours with Jan Egeland, who is the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council. You know, he's a

former Humanitarian Affairs Secretary for the United Nations. Nic, he said the Israeli military going into Rafah would be in his words, a bloodbath.

I mean, at this point in time, if this proposal does not work, even at least some part of it, what could we potentially be looking at on top of

all the misery that's already been inflicted on Gaza?

ROBERTSON: It's hard to imagine. You know, and one way you can look at what the prime minister is saying and the orders that he would give to the

military, which they haven't received yet for ground operation in Gaza is pressure on the Hamas leadership.

The prime minister has said that they have to kill the Hamas leadership who are believed to be, expected to be hiding out inside of Rafah, so he is

trying to ramp up pressure on them, but if there were to be a military operation there, imagine it this way.

There was dense civilian populations in the north of Gaza. The IDF used intelligence there, they said to go after terror cells there. They found

some of them. They dropped massive amounts of explosives on them. If that were to be repeated in Gaza and there has been huge international -- in

Rafah, rather, there has been huge international pressure to make sure that that doesn't happen and Israel, it says it has committed itself to using a

more strategic, more targeted approach, but here you have again a very, very densely populated area, whereby people would be unlikely be told by

the IDF to go seek shelter in safer places, and some would be afraid to do it, and some couldn't do it because of the elderly, infirm, they would have

moved multiple times.


And they're not living in brick concrete structures as they were in the north of Israel, they are living in tents that are oftentimes made of wood.

They are made of thin plastic sheeting.

We've seen and heard from families in Gaza, who have been caught in explosions where shrapnel has ripped through those plastic tents. There is

not a lot of protection in a concrete building, but utterly less in those types of structures, and that is what the vast majority of this densely

packed population in Rafah are living in right now.

NEWTON: Yes, so terrifying to even think about that.

Nic, listen, I'm grateful that you're going to stand by for us as we continue to await Secretary of State Blinken. He will likely get to the

podium in the next few minutes and we will take you there as soon as that happens.

In the meantime, just in to CNN, a bipartisan border deal, including billions for Ukraine and Israel has now failed to move forward. Senate

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backed the compromise measure, but other top Republicans came out against it as did crucially former President


Now Democrat, Chuck Schumer said he believes the Senate could pass a foreign aid bill without the border policy changes. Some congressional

Republicans are fed up, in fact, with the dysfunction. Listen.


REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): I had many people reach out to me via text message and say "What the hell are you guys doing up there?" I think our base, a

little frustrated. But we've said this many, many times that when you have such a small majority, are we really in the majority here? We may have the

gavel, but we're not acting like we're in the majority.


NEWTON: Lauren Fox has been watching all of this for us. And yes, Lauren, what the heck is going on? I mean, there has been this action in both the

House and the Senate, when we talk -- okay, so the border, along with the aid, that has now failed.

Where are we though, on this standalone bill, and really the eyes of the world are on Capitol Hill right now.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there was a vigorous Republican Party lunch debate about this very issue that is still finishing

up as we speak and specifically, Republicans are trying to mull what their next steps are going to be.

They are trying to get promises and assurances from Democrats, that they can make changes to the underlying bill or at least have votes on

amendments on that legislation.

What we just saw a couple of minutes ago on the Senate floor was that hard fought five-month negotiation bill to change the border policies and fund

that policy go up in flames in the United States Senate. In fact, there were just a handful of Republicans who voted for it, including the author,

Senator James Lankford, who voted to advance that legislation.

It failed to advance, that means that process is now completed. But you heard yesterday from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he still wants

to see some of those important pieces, including Ukraine included, Israel and Taiwan supplemental security funding passed in the United States Senate

and that means Republicans have to figure out precisely what they want in the upcoming days. They're still in the middle of that process, so we'll

keep you updated.

NEWTON: Yes, exactly. What do they want? And I will ask you, there are some Republicans who don't like the chaos. They say they're getting some

feedback, as we just heard from constituents who don't like it. On the other hand, some seem to be wanting to run on this kind of dysfunction.

So who do you think is going to win out here? And I know, it's hard to say but it is February, the election is not till November. This Congress

doesn't end until January. I mean, we've got a lot of months to go on this.

FOX: Yes, and I think, you know, the folks who think that this is a winning strategy are probably Republicans who think that, you know, moving forward

with the Mayorkas impeachment is an important thing for them to do, but I will tell you that a lot of senators who were coming out of that Republican

lunch who I just spoke with, they're deeply concerned about the dysfunction because they're in the minority right now in the Senate.

They want to take back the majority, and they are arguing that the dysfunction not just in their own chamber, but the dysfunction across the

Capitol is not really helping their case across the country as they are campaigning.

You know, yesterday, you had that very visual moment where this was a once in 150-year vote to try to impeach a Cabinet secretary and Republicans came

up short, because they just did not count appropriately.

Then you had the issue where they tried to put a standalone Israel bill on the floor, it failed, even though they knew it was headed in that


So I think that there's a lot of concern right now that Republicans in the House are really using a ton of different strategies, sort of throwing

spaghetti at the wall and they're not really getting outcomes and I think that that is a concern for Republicans across the Capitol even though maybe

a handful of them think that that's a winning message.


NEWTON: You know, from all the noise and fury, it seems like they're throwing all the pots and pans at the wall, not just spaghetti.

Lauren Fox for us, I know you'll continue to keep an eye on it. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Former Fox News host, Tucker Carlson is in Russia to interview Vladimir Putin. He says he wants to hear the Kremlin's side of the story about its

war with Ukraine.


NEWTON: Kremlin says former Fox News host, Tucker Carlson was granted an interview with Vladimir Putin. Carlson was fired, you'll remember from the

network last year after it settled an embarrassing lawsuit over its 2020 election lies. Now, he has since take into posting his interviews on X.

Carlson has been skeptical of US support for Ukraine and says he wants to get Russia's side of the story. Listen.


TUCKER CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: Not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country

involved in this conflict, Vladimir Putin.

Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now. We've never heard his voice. That's wrong.


NEWTON: Carlson is right about one thing, no Western journalist have talked to Putin since the war began, that's because the Kremlin has denied their

request. For our part, CNN has asked to speak with Putin on multiple occasions, Antoine Thronovski is "The New York Times" bureau chief from

Moscow, usually in Moscow. I'm sure you have asked for that very same interview, Antoine, along with me and dozens of others.

Actually, Antoine, we're going to leave it right there. We are getting word that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to the podium.

Let's listen in.

ANTONY BLINKEN, US SECRETARY OF STATE: Good evening. This is my fifth visit to the region and seventh visit to Israel since October 7th, first and

foremost to consult directly with our partners on the joint efforts to bring all of the remaining hostages home.

I've met with families of the hostages multiple times during prior visits, as well as in Washington, and I expect to see them again tomorrow.

The sheer agony -- not knowing the fate of your loved one -- it's almost unimaginable. And I know that that pain is almost unbearable. So we have

been intensely focused from day one on getting the hostages -- all the hostages -- back with their families where they belong. And we will keep

that focus until we get them back.


We had an opportunity today to discuss with the Israeli government the response that Hamas sent last night to the proposal that the United States,

Qatar, and Egypt had put together to bring the remaining hostages home, and extend the humanitarian pause. What I can tell you about these discussions

is that while there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas' response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached and we will work at that

relentlessly until we get there.

We had extensive discussions with the prime minister and national security leaders on the status of the military campaign to defeat Hamas, and on the

progress toward achieving the fundamental objective of ensuring that October 7th never happens again.

At the same time, we're continuing to work closely with Israel and Lebanon on diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions on Israel's northern border

so that families can return to their homes -- both in northern Israel and in southern Lebanon -- and live in peace and security.

We also discussed the imperative of maximizing civilian protection and humanitarian aid to address the ongoing suffering of Palestinian civilians

in Gaza. Nearly two million people have been displaced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands are experiencing acute hunger. Most have lost someone

that they love. And day after day, more people are killed.

On all of my previous visits here and pretty much every day in between, we have pressed Israel in concrete ways to strengthen civilian protection, to

get more assistance to those who need it.

And over the past four months, Israel has taken important steps to do just that: starting the flow of aid; doubling it during the first pause for

hostage releases; opening the north and south corridors in Gaza so that people could move out of immediate harm's way, through these corridors with

four hours' pause every day, three hours' notice; opening Kerem Shalom; starting the flow of assistance from Jordan; establishing deconfliction

mechanisms for humanitarian sites.

As a result, today, more assistance than ever is moving into Gaza from more places than at any time since October 7th.

As the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, the United States has helped provide much of that assistance, including funding 90,000

metric tons of flour delivered from Ashdod Port. That's enough to provide bread for 1.4 million people for the next five months.

A UN team began its mission to the north to assess conditions for the civilians who are still there, as well as what needs to be done to allow

displaced Palestinians to return back home to the north.

And yet, as I said to the prime minister and to other Israeli officials today, the daily toll that its military operations continue to take on

innocent civilians remains too high.

In our discussions today, I highlighted some key steps that Israel should take to ensure that more aid reaches more people in Gaza. Israel should

open Erez so that assistance can flow to northern Gaza where, as I said, hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to survive under dire

conditions. It should expedite the flow of humanitarian assistance from Jordan. It should strengthen deconfliction and improve coordination with

the humanitarian providers. And Israel must ensure that the delivery of life-saving assistance to Gaza is not blocked for any reason, by anyone.

We urge Israel to do more to help civilians, knowing full well that it faces an enemy that would never hold itself to those standards -- an enemy

that cynically embeds itself among men, women, and children, and fires rockets from hospitals, from schools, from mosques, from residential

buildings; an enemy whose leaders surround themselves with hostages; an enemy that has declared publicly its goal: To kill as many innocent

civilians as it can, simply because they are Jews, and to wipe Israel off the map.

That's why we've made clear that Israel is fully justified in confronting Hamas and other terrorist organizations. And that's why the United States

has done more than any other country to support Israel's right to ensure that October 7th never happens again.


Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7th. The hostages have been dehumanized every day since. But that cannot be a

license to dehumanize others.

The overwhelming majority of people in Gaza had nothing to do with the attacks of October 7th, and the families in Gaza whose survival depends on

deliveries of aid from Israel are just like our families. They're mothers and fathers, sons and daughters -- who want to earn a decent living, send

their kids to school, have a normal life. That's who they are; that's what they want. And we cannot, we must not lose sight of that. We cannot, we

must not lose sight of our common humanity.

We remain determined as well to pursue a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace, and security for all in the region, and notably for Israel.

And that diplomatic path continues to come into ever sharper focus as I travel throughout the region and talk to all of our friends and partners.

An Israel that's fully integrated into the region, with normal relations with key countries, including Saudi Arabia, with firm guarantees for its

security, alongside a concrete, time-bound, irreversible path to a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel,

with the necessary security assurances.

Over the course of this trip, we discussed both the substance and sequence of steps that all would need to take to make this path real. That includes

steps by the Palestinian Authority to reform and revitalize itself. And I reaffirmed the imperative of those steps in my meeting today with President

Abbas, chief among them improving governance, increasing accountability to the Palestinian people, reforms that the Palestinian Authority is committed

to make in a recently announced reform package and that we urge it to implement swiftly.

Now, we can see so many of the actors in the region lining up to move down the path that I just described, but some are not. Some are trying to

sabotage that path. Iran and its proxies continue to escalate and expand the cycle of violence that we all want to break. We'll continue to defend

our people, we'll continue to defend our interests in the face of such attacks -- not to fuel escalation, but to prevent it.

Finally, in my discussions today with the prime minister and senior officials, I also raised our profound concerns about actions and rhetoric,

including from government officials, that inflame tensions, that undercut international support, and place greater strains on Israel's security.

The people of Israel have sacrificed enormously to forge this nation and to defend it. They'll ultimately decide the right path to take, and whether

they're ready to make difficult choices necessary to realize the vision of the long-elusive prospect of true peace and true security.

As a true friend of Israel, as the country that has always been first to its side -- whether that was May 14th, 1948, or October 7th, 2023 -- we

will always offer our best advice on the choices before this country, especially the ones that matter the most.

Thank you. Happy to take some questions.

MATTHEW MILLER, US STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The first question goes to Zolan Kanno-Youngs with "The New York Times.'

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for the question. Just have a couple for you here. I know that you said there's

still room for agreement in terms of the negotiations over the release of hostages, but the prime minister after you spoke with him pretty bluntly

dismissed Hamas' response, describing it even as ludicrous. I just want to clarify, is this response, are these negotiations DOA at this point? And

what specifically did the prime minister object to in that response?

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 UNRWA funding? Thank you.

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

RAJU: 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

nonstarters 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 this 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 million 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.

RAJU: Sorry, Mr. Secretary. You said that -- you suggested some ways to do that to ensure --

BLINKEN: Well, 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 with -- in the case of Rafah itself, that's extremely important because it has such a

dense population, including many people who have been displaced from other parts of Gaza.

And on UNRWA, look, the -- we were deeply concerned by the allegations that were made about the participation or involvement of some of its employees

in the -- 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, this -- 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.

RAJU: 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.

RAJU: Although there was already --

BLINKEN: Thank you.

RAJU: -- an aid package that the administration endorsed that prohibited that funding?

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

RAJU: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, thank you for the opportunity. Gil Tamary, Channel 13. It seems to be that the entire Biden doctrine vis-a-vis

Israel, a future Palestinian state, the normalization with Saudi Arabia, is collapsing. Netanyahu says no with capital N to any form of a Palestinian

state. Saudi Arabia says normalization with Israel will only be considered after an independent Palestinian state is formed in the 1967 borders with

East 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. We have -- I think we have a trend going of at least three questions per questioner. Yes. 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'll -- I can only repeat myself. Clearly, clearly there are things that

Hamas sent back that are absolute nonstarters. 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, 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.

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."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Can you -- you've used some very specific words on -- 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 security, 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

will 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 Mohammed Jamjoom with Al Jazeera English.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

The 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.


BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone, and apologies for keeping folks late. Hope you get the chance to have some dinner. Thanks.

NEWTON: And you have just been listening to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken there giving his assessment after really trying to break down what

are the issues and, again, trying to find common ground.

I will say that perhaps in contradiction to the prime minister of Israel who we listened to just in the last couple of hours, he says, Antony

Blinken, that there is space for agreement to be reached. Crucially, he says he and others will work relentlessly to see that happen. He admits

there are non-starters, especially for Hamas, but also on both sides.

When asked, though, about the Israeli military and the prime minister of Israel saying that their next phase of the military campaign in Gaza would

be to go into Rafah, he did not say categorically that in any way that the United States would stand in Israel's way.


But again, he did urge Israel to bring the fate, the plight of civilians front of mind, and to make sure that there would be some safeguards to

protect those civilians.

I want to bring in our Nic Robertson, who is standing by for us again in Tel Aviv.

I mean, it's interesting that he took questions for as long as he did, especially coming after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's press

conference. I mean, what do you make especially when he says that there is space, and yet you and I looking at it right now really can't see where

that common ground is at this hour?

ROBERTSON: It's hard to see the common ground, and it very much looks as if the secretary of state is running over the same ground as he has previously

been running over. The narrative sounds very much the same. It's an appeal to Israel to improve the humanitarian delivery to Gaza to avoid civilian

casualties going forward.

But as you note, it's not to say categorically, don't go into Rafah because that will worsen the humanitarian situation and cause more civilian

casualties. It is be careful and try to help those people, which has been the message before. Now Secretary Blinken tried to say that and frame it

that there have been improvements since the United States first started that push with Israel. And indeed, that is correct. There have been

improvements. There have been a lot of setbacks along the way as well.

But it really sounds like, an even from Secretary Blinken has come at the end of a long day. It's come at the end as well. Probably a short night

last night wading through the Hamas proposed counterproposal as it was and he does sound as if for the moment he's spent a lot of energy on this today

and you get -- you do get that sense that he's trying to keep hope alive in the face of a situation where, yes, it's possible theoretically to close

some of these gaps, but he's dealing with a partner here who doesn't appear minded to close the gaps, and who wants to press ahead.

And that's what Prime Minister Netanyahu said. He told Secretary Blinken today that victory was at hand within a couple of months, that it was

close, essentially stick with Israel on this, it seems absent of any other diplomatic move that we can't see that the United States is really not

changing the course of what Israel set out on October 7th, partly because they share the same view.

And I think we got it definitively there to Mohammed Jamjoom of Al-Jazeera, his question to Secretary Blinken, what space and role do you see for Hamas

in the future? And the answer was no, there is none. And that's very much in keeping with what the United States has said all along. And that's so

that is entirely Israel's view. Hamas must be destroyed. So it feels very much we're not back at square one but, you know, one foot is still on

square one, it appears.

NEWTON: Yes, certainly not as hopeful, though, as the way this day began, especially looking at the first phase of the proposal that's on the ground

right now. This is not going to be easy for anyone to hear whether you're in Gaza or in Israel, quite frankly, and one of the families of those

hostages still being held.

I mean, Nic, look, he did Antony Blinken, you know, admonishes Israel and say, this cannot be a license. Whatever Hamas did to Israel cannot be a

license to dehumanize others. That is a strong statement and yet I wonder, I asked you, is a lot of what's going to be brought to bear here is what

the White House now intends to do. Antony Blinken will go back to Washington and will report back to the president.

You and I both know that Joe Biden is under a lot of pressure, especially in swing states like Michigan, where there is a large Arab population, to

come back empty handed. Do you believe there are other pressure points that the United States can apply, whether it's near-term and the next few days,

or let's say in the next few weeks? Because if we've gotten the specter of the IDF moving into Rafah in the next few days, as you just pointed out,

Nic, I mean, they're intent there, there are more than a million people. They are cornered, they are struggling to stay alive.

ROBERTSON: It's a very desperate picture and I think that -- and I think Secretary Blinken is entirely aware of that and you're right, that sort of

the vote, whether it's the Arab population, you know, with Arab heritage in Michigan who looks at the situation here and is aghast about what's

happening and disappointed in their president for not taking a tougher stance with Israel, or the progressive younger voter who also cannot

connect with the reality of what's happening to the people in Gaza, who may now not come out and vote for President Biden in a year when he's

absolutely going to need every vote that he can get.


Yes, this is not really the look that President Biden is going to hope for. And what else can he do? You know, there are a lot of things that can be

done in diplomacy, but they all require having willing partners. And what Secretary Blinken seems to be indicating are that he's managed to line up

willing partners in the region, but his stumbling block is here, notwithstanding Iran and its ability to run its proxies and stoke a fire

and heat into the sort of situation right now.

But for the United States, it really does feel that there's going to take some magical diplomacy and friends in Israel to do something that we can't

see happening at the moment.

NEWTON: Yes. And everyone has to hope at this point in time that what's going on between -- behind closed doors is just an awful lot more

productive than what we heard at the microphones in the last few hours.

Nic Robertson, really appreciate you being with us, and we will be right back with more news in a moment.


NEWTON: Massive Russian missile and drone attack has hit cities across Ukraine and that includes in the capital. Local officials say at least four

people were killed in the area of Kyiv on Wednesday. At least 38 others injured. That strike, also knocked out power lines. It marks the third

missile attack on Kyiv this year. And strikes were also reported in at least four other regions.

Now, as Russia's war on Ukraine approaches the two-year mark later this month, Ukrainian lawmakers are hoping to bolster the country's military

forces with a new mobilization law. Part of the proposal would lower the minimum draft age from 27 to 25. But also reduce the term of service.

As CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports, Ukraine needs more soldiers on its frontlines.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosions are dangerously close as the drone team from the 92nd Assault

Brigade set up their bird, attach the bombs, and head off into battle.

While drone technology is often seen as the realm of tech savvy youngsters, one of the pilots here is over 50.

One way or another, everyone should serve, he says. It is our duties to defend our land, our families, our motherland. If you do not want to fight,

what kind of citizen are you?


Ukraine is badly outgunned by the Russians but the reality is, they're also outmanned. Unable to recruit enough soldiers willing to join the military,

especially younger ones.

Decimated and exhausted Ukraine's top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, has called for a new mobilization drive, maybe including up to half a million

people. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is unconvinced and sources tell CNN he has informed Zaluzhnyi he'll be fired with differences over troop

numbers a key reason why.

Mobilization is unpopular and in front of Ukraine's parliament some are protesting for their spouses to be de-mobilized. Antonina says her husband

is too old to be serving this long.

My husband is 43 years old, she says. It is difficult for him to endure all this time on the ground, jumping from shells and performing all those tasks

at the front line. And there are many people like him. I'm here for my dad to come back, her son says.

But on the front lines, like in this rocket launching unit, some say they need more people to give those who've been in combat nearly nonstop a

breather. The commander of this launcher is 59. In Ukraine, people can only be drafted until they're 60.

All of Ukraine is at war and each and every man who thinks he lives in Ukraine must go through it, he says. It's irreversible. People here are


Ukraine's parliament is working on a law to make mobilization more appealing and possibly allow soldiers to exit the military after three

years. But back at the drone unit, they don't believe that talk.

There should be no illusions, he says, also among soldiers who politicians have given hope that there will be demobilization, there will not be any.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv.


NEWTON: And we will be right back with a look at the markets in a moment.


NEWTON: So just when we weren't looking the S&P now back in record territory. We are watching it very closely. And in fact tech stocks are

driving it close to the 5,000 level. Meantime, Snap shares have plunged. It's down after missing on Q4 earnings. Look that down. Oh, my gosh. More

than 34 percent at this point in time. Now the company announced this week that it's laying off 10 percent of its workforce.

We're checking in on the Dow there. I mean, not the highs of the day, slipping a little bit, but this --