Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem
MODERATOR: We’ll start with statements, first by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, followed by Secretary of State.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Thank you. Good morning. I’m happy to welcome my good friend, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, to Jerusalem. Later today the two of us will head south for the historic Negev Summit with the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco.
The relationship between our two countries is unbreakable. The United States is Israel’s closest friendship and strongest alliance. We share deeply-held values and core interests. We share a vision of peace through strength. These days are a reminder of the fact that, if you want peace, you must be able to defend it.
Military and diplomatic strength isn’t an obstacle to peace; it is what guarantees peace. This is an opportunity to thank the administration and both parties in Congress for their support for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System, and for the approval of security assistance for Israel. These are vital components of our national security.
My friend, you are making the lives of my children safer.
This morning we have discussed two main topics: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a possible nuclear agreement with Iran. Israel condemns the invasion, and has been providing military assistance to Ukraine since the first day of the war. As we stand here, Israeli medical teams are risking their lives at the field hospital we established in Ukraine. Israel continues to transfer trucks with humanitarian aid and to assist refugees in every way.
Regarding the Iranian issue, Iran is not an Israeli problem. The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran. The world cannot afford for the Iranians’ Revolutionary Guard Corps to continue spreading terror around the globe.
We have disagreements about a nuclear agreement and its consequences, but open and honest dialogue is part of the strength of our friendship. Israel and the United States will continue to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran.
At the same time, Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Anything. From our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical; the Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone. And Yair, it is always good to be with you, whether that is here in Jerusalem, in Washington, in Riga, the many other places we meet around the world. And if you’ll indulge me for just a minute, I haven’t had a chance to talk to some of our colleagues since the trip that we took with the President to Europe, so I’m going to say a few words about that before focusing in on some of the things that we talked about in more detail.
But I have just come from with President’s trip to Europe, where we saw the clearest demonstration yet of the unity and determination among our allies and partners when it comes to ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and standing with the people of Ukraine.
We had the NATO Summit, where allies agreed to further reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, so that we can defend every inch of NATO territory.
The United States, our allies and partners committed also to continue to provide Ukraine with the military assistance that it needs to defend against the onslaught of planes and tanks, including anti-aircraft systems, anti-armor weapons, drones, and many more.
In meetings with the G7 and the European Union, we committed to increasing sanctions on those who bear the greatest responsibility for the unjustified aggression against Ukraine, and to strengthen their enforcement.
We announced a groundbreaking initiative between the European Union and the United States to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, while accelerating the region’s transition to renewables.
And in Warsaw, Secretary of Defense Austin and I had the opportunity to meet face to face with our Ukrainian counterparts, colleagues that we talk to almost every day. It was particularly good to actually see them face to face, to give them a readout of the meetings that we’d had in Europe, and to pledge our ongoing support to meet Ukraine’s security, humanitarian, and economic needs.
I also joined the President in what was an incredibly moving hour-plus in meeting with refugees from Ukraine in Warsaw. I had the same opportunity to do that on my own a few weeks ago on the border between Ukraine and Poland. One of most striking things in meeting with these refugees is just how many of them are children, newborns, toddlers. According to the United Nations, more than half – more than half – of all Ukrainian children have been displaced by this war, which is one of the most powerful reminders of why our efforts to stop the war are so important.
The visit was also a reminder of a trailblazing diplomat, a friend, a mentor to me we lost earlier this week, who was also forced from her home in Czechoslovakia twice as a child – first by the Nazis, years later by the Communists – and whose family eventually found refuge in the United States. Madeleine Albright never forgot why it mattered for countries to open their arms to the displaced, to stand up to tyrants and persecutors who drive them from their homes.
It’s an experience that I know left an indelible impression on your father, my stepfather, something that both of our families feel very strongly.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: So true.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ending Russia’s war of choice was one of the issues that we discussed just a short while ago. We very much appreciate the foreign minister’s unequivocal condemnation of the Kremlin’s aggression and the commitment that Israel will not be used in any way to bypass sanctions targeting Russia.
Earlier this week Israel was one of 140 countries at the UN that voted to demand protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and humanitarian access while, again, condemning Russia’s aggression and its responsibility for creating this dire situation.
Prime Minister Bennett has dedicated substantial energy to trying to find a diplomatic way out of the conflict, something we very much support, while the government has provided vital humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people.
I got a chance to see the field hospital. We videoed in to colleagues who were there providing remarkable support through this field hospital – Kohar Meir, a shining star named after Golda Meir, herself a refugee from Ukraine. And this hospital is staffed entirely by Israeli volunteer doctors and nurses, most of whom are Ukrainian or Russian speakers.
So the people of Israel are standing with Ukraine in so many ways, and not just this field hospital. Thousands came out to Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to protest against the Kremlin’s war. When United Hatzalah asked for volunteers to go to Moldova to aid the many refugees who are arriving there, more than a thousand volunteers raised their hands to do just that.
And it’s not just the people of Ukraine and Russia who are feeling the impact of the Kremlin’s aggressive actions. Russia’s war is also causing food prices to rise, especially wheat, just as economies are recovering from COVID-19. This impact is acutely felt in this region, where most countries import at least half of their wheat, a significant proportion of which comes from Ukraine. The cost of basic staples like bread is rising, hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest.
Over the course of this trip we’ll be discussing steps that we can take in coordination with partners to mitigate these consequences to alleviate some of the burden that this is placing on people, including throughout the Middle East.
I made the trip here, during which I’ll visit Israel, the West Bank, Morocco, Algeria because this is a part of the world where the United States has vital interests and some of our closest friends. The United States will continue to invest in the region, strengthening the relationships that are central to stability in the Middle East and North Africa, making progress on enduring challenges, broadening opportunities for our people, and at the same time staying focused on ending the Kremlin’s war of aggression.
In Jerusalem I’ll also have the chance to meet with Prime Minister Bennett, President Herzog, Defense Minister Ganz. Across these meetings I will affirm, as I always do, as President Biden always does, America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. We discussed this a short while ago.
And indeed, just a few days ago, President Biden signed the omnibus funding bill that includes $1 billion for the Iron Dome system, which has saved countless lives, including during last year’s conflict with Hamas.
We forcefully condemn the recent terrorist attack in Beersheba, and extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims.
And Iran is, of course, as Yair said, was a key topic of discussion. When it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is another reminder of why this is so important: an Iran with a nuclear weapon or the capacity to produce one on short notice would become even more aggressive, and would believe it could act with a false sense of impunity.
The United States believes that a return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in, but has escaped from since the United States withdrew from that agreement. But whether there’s a JCPOA or not, our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering. And one way or another, we will continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on the way forward.
This cooperation is essential because, beyond its nuclear efforts, Iran continues to engage in a whole series of destabilizing activities across the region and beyond – indeed, those activities have also multiplied since our withdrawal from the JCPOA – via proxies and by Iran itself.
These include mounting terrorist attacks by the Houthis on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – attacks enabled by Iran – and, of course, its ongoing support for Hamas. The United States will continue to stand up to Iran when it threatens us or when it threatens our allies and partners, and we’ll continue to work with Israel to counter its aggression – its aggressive behavior throughout the region.
A more stable, integrated region gives us a stronger foundation for addressing shared threats like these, and for seizing shared opportunities. That is why we are fully committed to expanding cooperation through the Abraham Accords, and building on the remarkable progress that Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, as well as Morocco have made in such a short period of time.
The Negev Summit that Yair has convened and that we will take part in, along with Egypt, would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, and it is only the latest first in a year-and-a-half of them.
So Yair, I want to commend you for your remarkable leadership in this effort, for spearheading new areas of cooperation made possible through the accords. We have something, for example, called I2-U2, which we launched last October, together with our Emirati and Indian counterparts. And more on that in the days ahead.
But simply put, normalization is becoming the new normal in this region. And it is enabling our efforts to advance a positive agenda that will actually benefit the lives of our people: investing in infrastructure, developing renewable energy, collaborating on global health, forging ties between students, artists, businesses. All of these things will have concrete benefits for people across the region.
And across these efforts we will look to build on growing normalization, to bring others in, while also forging tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and preserving our longstanding goal of reaching a negotiated two-state solution.
Later today I’ll travel to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas and to underscore this administration’s commitment to strengthening our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian people.
I’ll also meet with Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are a critical part of the city’s vibrant and diverse civil society and underscore our work with Palestinian nongovernmental organizations.
As part of the administration’s efforts, we’re increasing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians; supporting the growing Palestinian private sector; investing significantly in new partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians at the grassroots level to address shared challenges.
In my meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, we’ll discuss ways to calm tensions and ensure a peaceful Ramadan, Easter, and Passover. That’s the message that Yair and King Abdullah of Jordan sent jointly after their recent meeting, and it’s one all leaders should reinforce.
So, my friend, thank you for your leadership, for your partnership, for your friendship. It is, as always, great to be here, and great to be with you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Secretary. We will now take one question of each side.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Good to have you in Israel. Barak Ravid from Walla News and Axios.
First question to Mr. Lapid: What practical steps did you tell the Secretary Blinken that the Israel is going to take to implement international sanctions on Russia? Until now, other than rhetorical commitment to the sanctions, Israel did not take any steps. Did you commit to the Secretary to take steps on that front?
And the second question – it’s a yes/no question to both of you – is the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Okay. I think I’m quoting the Secretary. He said the United States greatly appreciates our work with the sanctions. It was presented to the American delegation what are we doing, how are we doing it, how do we confront the fact that Israel has no comprehensive sanction bill and yet we succeed in being part of the world – the global effort to stop this war through the sanctions.
So I think there is no doubt in anyone’s mind, while our team was presenting this to the American delegation, that Israel is doing everything it can in order to be part of the effort.
As for the second question, yes, it is a terror organization and should be dealt as such. And also, it is – has the proxy terrorist organization like Hizballah, like the Houthis in Yemen, and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Barak, first of all, it’s very good to see you.
QUESTION: Is it? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that’s interesting you say that. (Laughter.) Indeed, I often discover what I’m thinking or doing before I even know that I’m thinking it or doing it by reading you.
Two things. First, we – in the course of our conversation, I was briefed by the senior official here in Israel in charge of sanctions implementation, export control implementation. And we very much appreciate the work that Israel is doing on that score. We’ll remain in close contact and close consultation on sanctions, on export controls. This is a vitally important part of our effort to put meaningful pressure on Russia to end the aggression in Ukraine.
With regard to the IRGC, it is probably the most designated organization, in one way or another, in the world among organizations that we designate, including the foreign terrorist organization designation.
MODERATOR: Our question will go to John Hudson of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, U.S. allies around the world have stepped up in big ways in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from Europe to Asia to Africa. But the Middle East has lagged. Saudi Arabia isn’t ramping up oil production; the UAE has issued some tepid statements at the UN; and Ukraine’s president called out Israel for failing to impose sanctions or send military assistance. Are you satisfied with the region’s response?
Secondly, could you explain President Biden’s comment that Putin cannot remain in power, and do you think those remarks risk Moscow severing diplomatic ties with the U.S.?
Minister Lapid, the United States is Israel’s biggest financial, political, and security partner by a long shot. It says it wants to open a consulate that services the Palestinians. How can you justify standing in the way of Washington’s desire to conduct the diplomacy the way that it wants to?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, John. So a couple of things. First, with regard to the work in this region, both in support of Ukraine and in standing against Russia’s aggression, including through the imposition of sanctions and export controls, this is very much a part of the conversation we’ve had today, and I’ll be having throughout the course of my visit here, including with our partners.
Just speaking to Israel, again, we greatly appreciate, first of all, its strong repudiation of Russian aggression against Ukraine. We very much appreciate, as well, the foreign minister’s commitment to ensure that Israel is not used as any kind of back door for sanctions evasion. And as I mentioned a moment ago, I had a very good briefing from the senior official in charge of sanctions and export control implementation. We will be working very closely on that.
And we saw, quite literally, via video, the extraordinary work that Israel is doing on a humanitarian basis to help those suffering from the aggression in Ukraine with a field hospital. And we will be talking throughout about various means of support that Israel and other countries can give to Ukraine, whether it comes to security assistance, whether it comes to humanitarian assistance, economic assistance, or, again, making sure that sanctions are implemented. That will be a conversation that’s ongoing throughout this trip.
With regard to the President’s incredibly powerful speech yesterday, I think the President, the White House made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else. As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter. In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.
But what we do have is a strategy to strongly support Ukraine. We’ve been doing that, and rallying partners and allies around the world to do that, including with unprecedented amounts of security assistance. It’s having a meaningful impact on Ukraine’s ability to defend itself from this onslaught of planes and tanks and other weapons. We have a strategy to put unprecedented pressure on Russia, and we’re carrying that forward. And we have a strategy to make sure that we’re providing all of the humanitarian support that we can, and we have a strategy to reinforce NATO. All of that is going forward. The President laid that out in great detail yesterday, and that’s what we’re focused on.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID: Well, John, first of all, yes. The United States is our greatest ally and greatest friend. And therefore, we take very seriously whatever subject they want to put on the table. Part of this friendship is the fact that we have the ability to have an open dialogue about everything.
We have no problem, of course, if – and it’s not even our place to say anything – if the United States want to open an office to deal with the problems of – day-to-day problems, or consular problems of Palestinians. We just don’t think Jerusalem is the right place for this, because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Israel alone.
Thank you, everybody.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all.