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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News

QUESTION:  At least 27 Americans have been killed, and the fate of as many as 150 hostages, including some Americans, remains uncertain tonight.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was here today, says the U.S. is doing everything it can to secure their release.  I pressed him on when when we spoke one on one.  All as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens.  A UN agency estimates 340,000 Palestinians have been displaced, as Israel’s air campaign intensifies.

Tonight, Israeli airstrikes relentlessly bombarding Gaza, with a potential ground invasion looming, tensions escalating here for six days now.  This newly released body camera video from Saturday shows Israeli forces firing at militants and freeing hostages during Hamas’s attack.

But perhaps the most disturbing images of this war so far were released today by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on social media – photos of babies so horrifying that we will not show you.

  • PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Hamas has shown itself to be an enemy of civilization.

QUESTION:  Netanyahu sharing those images with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who traveled to Israel in a show of support from the U.S.

  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way.

QUESTION:  And Secretary Blinken had this emotional moment with a survivor from the music festival.

  • FEMALE SURVIVOR:  We’re strong here.  We’re powerful here in this place, now, in Tel Aviv and everywhere.  (Applause.)

QUESTION:  I sat down with him soon after.

  • QUESTION:  Is there a risk, a greater risk, of a regional war at this point?
  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re determined that there not be.  We deployed the largest aircraft carrier group that we have, the Gerald R. Ford, to the region.  We’ve taken other steps to make it very clear to anyone who might think of taking advantage of this moment that that would be a big mistake.
  • We’re working with many other countries in the region – countries that may have influence with those who might consider doing something – to use that influence to prevent it, to avoid it.

(Program continues.)

QUESTION:  With 27 Americans dead and more than a dozen missing, America’s top diplomat came to Israel to reassure families.  I spoke to Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the stakes of Israel’s growing war effort.

  • QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you and the President have made clear the U.S. has Israel’s back during this time.  Is there a limit to that support, especially as we lean toward what could be the beginning of a ground war?
  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Lester, what we’ve seen here is something, to most of us, almost unimaginable.  I think there’s both an absolute revulsion at what we’ve seen and also a determination to stand strongly against it.
  • So we stand with Israel.  It has not only a right, but I think an obligation to take the steps necessary to defend its people, and also to ensure to the best of its ability that this can’t happen again.
  • QUESTION:  You haven’t discussed any red lines with Prime Minister Netanyahu?
  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are talking to them about their plans, how they propose to proceed, but I’m not going to get into any of the operational details.  And again, we’re determined to support them. 
  • QUESTION:  You had a chance to meet with Americans who have loved ones who are missing, many of them presumed kidnapped.  I’ve had conversations with many of those same folks.  They want their government to stand up and take responsibility and find these folks and bring them safely home.  What assurance can you give them?
  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, Lester – and you know this from talking to some of these families – no one can fully put themselves in their shoes.  No one can know what this experience is like.
  • We are doing everything we can to secure the freedom of those who’ve been taken hostage. 

QUESTION:  I also asked Secretary Blinken about news today that the U.S. and Qatar have agreed to deny Iran’s access to $6 billion which was due to be released as part of a recent prisoner swap.

  • QUESTION:  Was that an acknowledgment that Iran might have been involved in this attack?
  • SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things here.  First, when it comes to Iran and its possible involvement, Iran’s had a long relationship with Hamas.  Hamas wouldn’t be Hamas without the support over many, many years from Iran.
  • When it comes to this specific attack, in this moment we don’t have direct evidence that Iran was involved in the attack, either in planning it or carrying it out.  But that could change.
  • Now, when it comes to the $6 billion, it’s important to be very clear because unfortunately, some people are either misinformed or they’re misinforming.  The money in question – Iranian money, not American taxpayer dollars – is money that was allowed to accrue in a bank account from the sale of Iranian oil. 
  • What we did is we moved the money from one account in South Korea to another account in Qatar, where the money could actually be used, but under the supervision of our Treasury Department, only for humanitarian purposes, and not a dollar of that money has been spent to date.  And we retain the right to freeze that account.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Blinken here in Tel Aviv today.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-lester-holt-of-nbc-nightly-news-2/

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