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Monday, March 4, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  We are heading back to the Middle East, heading to Israel, heading to Jordan with three principal goals in mind.  First, to talk to the Israeli Government about the ongoing campaign against the Hamas terrorist organization.  As we’ve said from the start, Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself and also to take steps to try to make sure that this never happens again. 

We’ve also said very clearly and repeatedly that how Israel does this matters.  We will focus as well on steps that need to be taken to protect civilians who are in a crossfire of Hamas’s making, and we want to look at concrete steps that can be taken to better protect them.

We’ve seen in recent days Palestinian civilians continuing to bear the brunt of this action, and it’s important and the United States is committed to making sure everything possible is done to protect civilians.

At the same time, we’re determined that this conflict not spread, and we’ll be talking to both the Israeli Government and partners in the region about what all of us are doing to prevent that from happening. 

The second big objective, of course, is to continue our efforts to get humanitarian assistance in and to get our citizens and nationals out of Gaza. 

In terms of humanitarian assistance going in, we’ve been able to establish over the last couple of weeks efforts to get trucks moving.  We’ve had about 50 to 60 trucks a day of assistance going in.  We need that and want that to increase, and I expect you’ll see that in the coming days. 

At the same time, we’ve been working to make sure that our nationals and other foreign nationals can get out, and over the last two days you’ve seen Americans and their families begin to come out of Gaza.  And we expect that to continue over the coming days.  This has been a very deliberate effort on our part, working with other countries to make sure we could get passage out for our citizens and citizens from other countries.

Of course, we’re intensely focused every single day on the hostages and taking every possible step that we can, in concert with others, to secure their release. 

Third and finally, we will be talking about how we can set the conditions for a durable, sustainable peace; durable, sustainable security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.  We’re focused on the day of; we also need to be focused on the day after. 

And so in conversations that we’ll be having through the course of this weekend, I expect you’ll see a focus there and particularly how we can get, over time, to two states for two peoples, which in our judgment remains the best guarantor – and maybe the only guarantor – of a secure, Jewish, and democratic Israel and Palestinians with a state that they’re entitled to.

So these will be the things that we’re focused on.  These are challenging times.  These are intensely difficult issues.  But I am convinced that American diplomacy can make a difference in moving everyone to a better place.  That’s what we’ll be working to do. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Do you assess that Israel has shown restraint up to this point in their offensive in Gaza, and what are the concrete steps you’ll be pushing them on?  And are you confident that you’ll actually be able to get them to make any movement on this, given the maximalist positions we’ve seen from the Israelis?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we we’ve said, and it’s important, Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, and again, to try to make sure that what happened never happens again.  No country – no country, not the United States, not anyone else that I can think of – would tolerate the slaughter of its civilians.  So we stand behind that, and we stand behind the proposition. 

But as democracies, the United States, Israel, other democracies have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect civilians who may be caught in harm’s way.  And this, again, is a crossfire quite literally of Hamas’s making.  The fact that it cynically and monstrously, deliberately has people – men, women, and children – as human shields, puts its command posts, puts its leadership, puts its fighters, puts its weapons, puts its munitions underneath hospitals or even inside them – schools, mosques – makes this incredibly challenging. 

But we have to rise to that responsibility, and so we will be talking about concrete steps that can and should be taken to minimize harm to men, women, and children in Gaza.  And this is something that the United States is committed to.  I’m not going to get into the details here, but it’s very much on the agenda. 

When I see a Palestinian child – a boy, a girl – pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building, that hits me in the gut as much as seeing a child from Israel or anywhere else.  So this is something that we have an obligation to respond to, and we will. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I wonder if we could get your assessment of the current risk of the spillover in the conflict.  Today, Hizballah has said they’ve attacked 19 posts along Israel’s border with Lebanon.  The Houthis said the other day they’re entering the conflict. 

And just secondly, while you’re in the region, how do you expect be able to get other countries in the region involved in sort of the day-after plan that you’re talking about, when there’s rising opposition, rising protests against Israel from – we’ve seen Bahrain and the Jordanians pull out their ambassadors. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we are determined to prevent escalation on any of these fronts, whether it’s Lebanon, northern Israel, southern Lebanon, whether it’s the West Bank, whether it’s anywhere else in the region.  And the President’s been very clear in what he’s said publicly, we’ve been very clear in what we’ve shared privately, we’ve been very clear in some of the actions we’re taking that we are determined to deter any escalation.

So with our partners as well, we’re making sure that that message gets through.  It’s not in anyone’s interest – not in anyone’s interest – for this to escalate.  And I think some of the other parties involved actually recognize that, but we’re going to work on that every single day.

QUESTION:  Do you assess that that’s happening, though?  These strikes are already taking place. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’ve seen so far are yet discrete attacks – we’ve responded as necessary – including on our forces, our forces who are in the region in Syria and Iraq to prevent the resurgence of ISIL, which also should be in everyone’s interest.  And you saw the actions that we took in response to that.  But as I said, we’re determined to prevent escalation, to prevent the spread of this conflict, and we’re taking necessary steps to try to make sure that that happens.

With regard to what comes next, again, I think understandably people are very focused on the day of, not just the day after.  But we do have to have conversations now about how we can best set the conditions for a durable, sustainable peace – durable, sustainable security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.  So I expect that those are conversations that we’ll have an opportunity to pursue over the next couple of days.  But this is a long-term effort, but we have to make sure that we’re focused on it now.

Thanks.  Thanks, everyone. 

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-14/

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