Monday, April 22, 2024

Secretary Blinken’s Remarks to the Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Hello, everyone.   So we’ve just completed our tenth stop in seven days in the region.  And as we have everywhere throughout this trip, we’ve been focused on a number of key objectives.  First, preventing the conflict from spreading; second, getting more humanitarian assistance in to people who need it; three, increasing protection for civilians; four, getting hostages out; and finally, continuing to support Israel in its efforts to make sure that October 7th can never happen again, and so that this conflict can end. 

We also had conversations about the day after the conflict ends, doing the work necessary to prepare for that, as well as for long-term, enduring security.  And I have to say what was different about this trip is that on our previous trips here, I think there was a reluctance to talk about some of the day-after issues and long-term stability and security on a regional basis, but now we’re finding that our partners are very focused on that and wanting to engage on those questions.  So this was a big part of our conversation as well.  They’re also clearly prepared to take steps, to do things, to make commitments necessary both for Gaza’s future and for long-term peace and security in the region. 

We come away with a number of concrete steps forward.  First, an agreement by Israel to have the United Nations send an assessment team to the north of Gaza to look at the conditions that would be necessary to start to get people moving back to the north.  Second, we have a commitment from the Palestinian Authority to pursue meaningful reform.  Third, we’re also, as – just literally as we’re here, we have the Security Council at the United Nations pronouncing itself on the ongoing Houthi aggression – that’s been a danger to shipping in the Red Sea and that poses a threat to countries around the world – and with U.S. leadership, a strong Security Council resolution that is insistent that these actions stop.  And finally, as I said, an agreement among countries in the region, among our Arab partners, to work together and to coordinate our efforts for the way forward, both for Gaza itself as well as for longer-term peace and stability in the region. 

In a way, the very challenge of this moment, because things are so difficult, I think that’s actually only reinforced the commitment of countries to work to find a real resolution and one that puts us on a longer-term path to genuine peace and stability.  And that path is clearly there, it’s possible, and we can see it.  And it involves – there’s a path that brings Israel’s needs and desires for integration in the region and genuine security with, as well, Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own.  And I think what we’re finding, especially from all of our conversations on this trip, that you have to do both and you have to do it with regional coordination and a regional approach.  You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t have either without a regional commitment to advancing on both tracks.  And that, I think, is what we can see and what we have.

Now, none of this is easy, to say the least, after so many years.  None of this will happen overnight.  But there is a greater willingness now of countries to make the hard decisions and do what’s necessary to advance on that track.  And I think you can really see two very stark alternatives for the region.  One is an alternative where you have an integrated region with Israel – integrated – with security assurances and commitments from regional countries, and as well from the United States – and a Palestinian state.  These are a pathway to get to that state.  The other path is to continue to see the terrorism, the nihilism, the destruction by Hamas, by the Houthis, by Hizballah – all backed by Iran. 

If you pursue the first path, if you build that integration, if you bring Israel in, if you make the necessary commitments to security, and you move down the path to a Palestinian state, that’s the single best way to isolate, to marginalize Iran and the proxies that are making so much trouble for us and for pretty much everyone else in the region.  And I think that vision is very clear to many of the leaders that we talked to in the region.  Again, a lot of hard decisions required, a lot of work required, but there is a pathway forward and it’s one that we fully intend to pursue with American diplomacy in the weeks and months ahead. 

Happy to take some questions. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  You said the change won’t happen overnight, and you’ve emphasized that Israel has a right to defend herself, to ensure its security.  But after four trips here to the region, coupled with the reality that the conflict is escalating, are you concerned that your effort to seek a diplomatic resolution is falling flat?  What remains the biggest challenge as you look back on the past week and think about your conversations with all the world leaders here in the region?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, I don’t think the conflict is escalating.  There are lots of danger points; we’re trying to deal with each of them.  Lebanon, where we want to make sure, through diplomacy, that we can create enough security and a strong sense of security so that people in Israel who have been forced from their home can move back, people in southern Lebanon who have been forced from their homes can move back.  And we’re working aggressively on that with diplomacy, and Israel strongly supports that, and I think no one wants to see escalation there.  Israel doesn’t; Lebanon doesn’t.  I actually don’t think Hizballah does.  So we’re working on that. 

The Red Sea – we want to avoid escalation there.  Unfortunately, the Houthis continue, day after day, to attack shipping.  So the international community has been very clear about the need for this to stop.  The Security Council has pronounced itself.  We have a number of countries that have made clear that, if it doesn’t stop, there’ll have to be consequences, and unfortunately it hasn’t stopped.  But we want to make sure that it does, and we’re prepared to do that.  Third, we’ve been working very hard to try to make sure that the West Bank does not explode, catch on fire.  We’re very focused on that.  

And then finally, Gaza itself.  Yes, it’s imperative that Israel do everything it can to ensure that October 7th doesn’t happen again, but we also want to see this conflict come to an end – and until it does, to make sure that humanitarian assistance goes up for people who need it and civilian protection also increases.  We’ve made, I think, progress on those fronts.  At the same time, Israel has demobilized a significant number of forces, starting in the north, so that process has begun.  And we’ll be working on that in the days and months ahead. 

So we’re – we’re doing everything we can with very strong regional support, again, to make sure that this doesn’t spread, that there can’t be a repeat of October 7th, but also that this conflict comes to an end. 

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I’ll follow up on John’s questions.  You’ve talked a lot on this trip about the post-war scenario that you’re trying to plan out here.  But at the same time, the tempo of military operations in Gaza is still very high, even though Israel has withdrawn strong some troops.  Civilian casualties are still occurring every day.  It seems like, from our perspective, that you’re not pushing as hard on that front anymore and you’re not willing to place conditions on weapons transfers to Israel.  So people would say that you’ve kind of given up on mitigating civilian casualties and are instead focusing on the long term. 

And then the second question.  On the long-term issues, you talk about that partners in this region are willing to engage on the post-war scenario.  Our impression is that the Israeli leaders themselves are less willing to engage on that right now because they’re focused on this war and on a military security solution rather than a political solution.  So how do you address that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, of course, Israel’s focused in the immediate on Gaza, on trying to make sure that, as I said, October 7th can’t happen again.  That’s their immediate focus.  But this will come to an end, and when it does, I think you’ll also see the focus on what has to happen after – what has to happen after for Gaza, but also what has to happen after, in a much broader sense, to make sure that October 7th doesn’t happen again.  Because there’s not only a military piece to that equation – there’s a critical political piece.  And that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about. 

From Israel’s perspective, if you can have a future where they’re integrated into the region, relations are normalized with other countries, where they have the necessary assurances, commitments, guarantees for their security – that’s a very attractive pathway.  But it’s also clear that that requires a pathway to a Palestinian state.  We’ve heard that from every single country in the region. 

So these two things are tied together.  Israel’s integration, its security, pathway to a Palestinian state – that is the equation, and it’s done and it has to be done on a regional basis with regional commitments, all of which, I believe, countries are prepared to make.  And it’s also the best way to address the most fundamental security concern that Israel and many others have, which are the actions that Iran and its proxies are taking.  That’s the single best way – this integration, security, a Palestinian state – to isolate and marginalize Iran and the kinds of actions it’s taking through its proxies.  I think that vision is clear and – but for us to move on it, for it to really get started, the conflict in Gaza has to end.  That’s critical.  And that is, of course, what Israel is focused on right now. 

In terms of civilian protections and casualties, no, we are intensely focused on that, just as we’re intensely focused on increasing humanitarian assistance.  And we’ve said and we’ve been very clear that it’s imperative that more be done, that Israel do more to protect civilians even as it’s working to ensure that October 7th doesn’t happen again.  We’re very focused on this.  We’re focused on it in very practical ways in terms of the advice that we’re providing.  But it is vital that, as long as this is going on, every effort be made to make sure that civilians who are caught in a crossfire of Hamas’s making don’t continue to suffer, and we’ll keep that focus. 

QUESTION:  Any agreement with Sisi at all? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.    

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-blinkens-remarks-to-the-press-2/

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