QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. In the last 24 hours, U.S. officials told ABC News that there was a potential plan in the works to rescue about 50 hostages – women and children – from Hamas. Last night we were told that negotiators were getting closer. President Biden has said his message to the families is hang in there, we’re coming. So how close are we to seeing any of these hostages?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: David, what I can tell you is this. We’ve been working intensely on this from day one to try to bring hostages home, bring Americans home, Israelis home, the other nationalities who are being held by Hamas. But having said that, honestly, the less that I say the better at this moment because we don’t want to jeopardize anything that we’re doing to try to bring people home. All I can tell you is we’re focused on this intensely, and look, I am hopeful that we can bring people home.
QUESTION: I know you’re aware of what we have reported tonight – Israeli authorities announcing the body of a 65-year-old hostage was actually found near al-Shifa Hospital. Do you have any intelligence? Should the world be prepared that we could learn of more hostages who have not survived this ordeal?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t have the information to confirm what you’ve reported, but look, what we’ve seen from day one is Hamas endangering everyone, endangering the civilians of Gaza by embedding itself with them in hospitals, in apartment buildings, in schools, in mosques, and of course, endangering the hostages that it’s taken by keeping them close to harm’s way. So horrifically, that could certainly be one of the results.
QUESTION: Let me ask you in particular about al-Shifa Hospital. U.S. officials said they saw intelligence that actually backed up what the Israelis were claiming, that there were tunnels under al-Shifa Hospital. I know the Israelis are showing newer images tonight. Are you confident that there are tunnels, that there is a command center under that hospital, of course filled with patients, with babies when it was stormed?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. And what we know and based on information we have as well as information that the Israelis have is that this has been the practice of Hamas to use these civilian infrastructure, to use hospitals, to use schools, to use mosques, to use apartment buildings to embed their own fighters and to have command posts there, to have commanders there, to have weapons there. Already what we’ve seen from the operation at al-Shifa Hospital are a huge number of weapons that were recovered, and you have assault rifles found next to MRI machines. So this is one of the monstrous practices that Hamas engages in, and it’s, as you know, endangered so many civilians in Gaza.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you know, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told me that after this war with Hamas, quote, “I think Israel will have for an indefinite period the overall security responsibility for Gaza,” that Israel will be in Gaza. Does the U.S. support this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We don’t. We’ve been very clear that there can’t be a reoccupation by Israel of Gaza, just as Gaza can’t continue to be used as a platform to launch terrorist attacks. We also —
QUESTION: Have you told the prime minister that you don’t agree with this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, we have. We’ve been clear about that.
Now, there may have to be a transitional period where their security is provided for Gaza. That’s something that we have to look at. But when it comes to the future of Gaza, in our judgment, it has to be under Palestinian governance and there has to be security provided as well.
It’s imperative, in our judgment, if there is going to be lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, that we actually move forward on ensuring that the Palestinians have political rights, that they have the ability to govern themselves, to make decisions for their own future in their own state.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about this summit with China’s President Xi. President Biden said today that the United States has real differences with Beijing. He said the U.S. will continue strong diplomacy, military communications back up, progress on fentanyl, but you also know that President Biden was asked if President Xi is a dictator. President Biden said he is a dictator. A lot is being made of your reaction in that moment. Do you agree that President Xi is a dictator here?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, David, it’s not exactly a secret to anyone that we have two very different systems. And President Biden always speaks candidly and he speaks for all of us. But the point you made a moment ago is this summit yesterday, this meeting yesterday, produced real, concrete results for the American people. We have a couple of obligations in this relationship with China, the most consequential of any relationship that we have. We’ve got a real competition. We want to make sure it doesn’t veer into conflict.
Yesterday, we got – we restored military-to-military engagement. That’s critically important because we’ve had a series of near misses over the last year where Chinese ships, Chinese planes were driven or flown very dangerously close to our own.
Second, fentanyl – the number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49. We’ve had a big challenge because the chemicals that are used to make fentanyl, the so-called precursors, the ingredients, made in China by some companies, a handful of companies, then sent over across the ocean to our own hemisphere, turned into fentanyl, they come in and devastate our communities.
The agreement we reached with China yesterday that the President reached has China now cooperating, working with us, working with other countries to crack down on this. And they’ve already taken action. Not only did they publish a notice to all of their companies that this is forbidden, they’ve actually taken concrete action to take down companies that were engaged in this practice. This is going to have a clear and positive impact on communities across our country.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thanks, David.