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Friday, June 14, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with David Muir of World News Tonight

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for sitting down with us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.  Thanks, David.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask you about the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  I know he shared with you today images that you hadn’t seen before of the brutality here.  What did you see?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s genuinely overwhelming.  The world’s already seen a lot of these images, but I saw some images today that I hadn’t seen before, and I suspect others hadn’t.  I almost hesitate to get into it, but a young infant riddled with bullets; a family hugging each other in a death embrace, having been burned to death; beheaded soldiers; more.  It almost defies human comprehension, precisely because it’s not human.  And it reminds me in some ways of the worst of what we saw from ISIS a few years ago.  Thankfully, ISIS has been dealt with.  Hamas – not yet.

QUESTION:  I want to ask you about the real concern for the hundred hostages – at least a hundred – being held by Hamas in Gaza right now.  We know Americans are among them.  These families are enduring an excruciating wait here.  What can you tell them about what’s happening right now to try to get these hostages out alive?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I met with the families of a number of Americans who’ve been either murdered here by Hamas or are likely in the hands of Hamas.  And to the families who may have loved ones in the hands of Hamas, what I told them is this:  We are doing everything we can, looking at every possible option, to bring their loved ones back to them.

QUESTION:  Does that include U.S. military special forces?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to get into the specifics of what we’re looking at, what we’re considering.  Unfortunately, we have a lot of experience with this over the years.  And President Biden has always been determined in these situations to explore every possible option.  That’s what we’re doing.

One last thing on this.  We’re also working with countries throughout the region who may have relationships, who may have influence, who may have leverage with Hamas, to use that leverage in favor of getting the hostages home, getting them out.  And that’s a conversation I’ll be continuing as I move on from Israel.

QUESTION:  We’ve heard President Biden say to Iran, “Be careful.”  We know that Iran supports Hamas.  I want to ask you about the $6 billion in assets unfrozen with the prisoner swap.  Did any of that money reach Iran before this attack from Hamas?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The short answer is no.  And in fact, that money will never reach Iran because Iran doesn’t actually have direct access to it.  Let’s be very clear about what this is because, as I’ve said, there’s unfortunately a number of people who are either misinformed or they’re misinforming about the $6 billion.

The $6 billion is money that accrued in an account from the sale of Iranian oil.  That mechanism was established by the previous administration, the Trump administration, so that the money would be in specific accounts and could only be used for humanitarian purposes – for food, for medicine, for medical equipment.  Our laws, our sanctions, from day one have always exempted resources for humanitarian purposes.

But as a practical matter, those funds were in an account in South Korea where, for technical reasons, Iran couldn’t use them.  So they were moved to an account in Qatar, where there was a mechanism put in place to allow them to be used under the strict supervision of the Treasury Department only for humanitarian purposes.  To date, not a single dollar has been expended from that account, and we retain the right to freeze it.

QUESTION:  And you just said it never will?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It will never be used for anything other than humanitarian purposes.

QUESTION:  That’s not never.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No.  And as I’ve said, we also retain the right to freeze it so that it’s not used.  We have that right; we have that ability.  And I’m not going to speculate any further on what will happen, but I think it’s very important to clear up the misinformation that’s out there about these monies.

QUESTION:  You just said you have the right to freeze it.  Is that what’s being done right now?  Are you freezing the money?  Is there a hold on that money?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, there’s not a hold on the money in the sense that the money has not – it just hasn’t been expended at all.  And again, as I said, we can freeze it at any time.  Beyond that —

QUESTION:  Have there been any U.S. talks since this attack from Hamas to hold this money or to slow it down, take another look at it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Right now, again, there’s no – there’s nothing to slow down because nothing has been expended, and there are no plans that I’m aware of to actually spend it.

QUESTION:  Do you have any evidence that Iran knew that this attack was coming?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Iran has had a long relationship with Hamas, and Hamas wouldn’t be Hamas without the support that it’s gotten over many years from Iran.  Having said that, when it comes to this specific attack, right now, as we speak, we haven’t seen direct evidence that Iran participated in or helped plan the attack.  That doesn’t mean that it didn’t; we just don’t have the evidence to show it.  And as I said, there’s a long relationship between the two.

QUESTION:  As you know, Mr. Secretary, there are right now 360,000 Israeli reservists amassing along the border with Gaza.  Does the U.S. support a ground incursion here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m going to leave the specifics of any operation for our own private conversations with the Israelis.  And I’m going to leave it to them, because these are their decisions.  These are their operations.

QUESTION:  If they decide to move forward, does the U.S. support that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, let me say this.  Israel has not just the right but the obligation after what it’s experienced to defend its people and also to do anything it can and everything it can to try to ensure that this never happens again.

QUESTION:  You said here in Israel today that this Hamas terrorist group does not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations to live with security and freedom and justice.  You have seen the images from this Israeli bombardment – neighborhoods wiped out, hospitals, schools.  Do Palestinian civilians who do not support Hamas deserve to pay a price for what Hamas has done here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  One of the many tragedies that Hamas inflicts on people is the tragedy that it’s inflicted on the Palestinian people, including and notably people in Gaza.  First, instead of using the resources that it’s had at its disposal to actually better their lives, what has it done?  It’s used almost all of its resources for terrorist tunnels and rockets to attack Israel.  Second, it uses people as human shields.  It intentionally puts them in harm’s way to try to protect itself, to protect its leaders, its members, or to protect their equipment, their arms.

QUESTION:  The Israeli Government has acknowledged that these Hamas militants were able to breach defense in nearly 30 locations.  We’ve now seen the video and the motorized gliders practicing their descent into Israel.  Hamas says they’ve been planning this for quite some time.  How did Israeli intelligence miss this?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  David, that’s going to be something that I know that the Israelis are looking at, will study, and will get to the bottom of.  It may take some time.  And of course, the focus right now is on dealing with these attacks, dealing with defending the country, dealing with trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  But there’s no doubt – the Israelis have said very clearly and very directly – that there was an intelligence failure, and this is something that they are determined to get to the bottom of.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, David.  Good to be with you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-david-muir-of-world-news-tonight/

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