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QUESTION:  Let me welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Mr. Secretary, are you at all concerned the President’s reference to President Xi as a dictator could undo any progress from yesterday’s meeting?  I guess the question is how sensitive is this relationship at this stage.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Lester, it’s no surprise that – and I don’t think it will be news to anyone – that we have very different systems.  And the President always speaks candidly and he speaks for us.  But what’s important is what we were able to achieve with yesterday’s meeting. 

We hadn’t had military-to-military contact for well over a year.  We re-established that.  Second, we have an agreement with China that it will take action, and in fact it already is taking action to crack down on the companies in China that are providing the chemical ingredients that go into making fentanyl.  That’s going to make a real difference in the lives of virtually every American community.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, if I can ask you about the war in Gaza.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  Israel is showing video of weapons it says were recovered at the al-Shifa Hospital, video of what may be a tunnel, but it’s clear that the evidence doesn’t necessarily point to a Hamas command and control center, as Israel and the U.S. have maintained.  What’s happening there?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Two things.  One, exactly why there should be assault rifles located next to an MRI machine escapes me.  And this is compelling evidence of the fact that Hamas embeds itself in civilian infrastructure of one kind or another.  We have our own information that command and control nodes are located either in or under hospitals.  There’s several of them. 

And this is something that’s really monstrous in what Hamas has done to try to embed itself amongst civilians.

QUESTION:  But based on what you’ve seen, does it warrant the bombardment that we’ve seen, the level of bombardment against the hospitals?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, these are – what’s going on now are ground operations, not bombardments.  And as I’ve said before, we have seen far too many Palestinian civilians killed, and we have been urging and – Israel all along to do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.  They’ve opened up corridors so that people can get out of harm’s way and they’ve been bringing supplies into the hospitals as they’ve tried very deliberately to clear them of any Hamas fighters.  And all of this is incredibly, incredibly hard. 

QUESTION:  What is your level of confidence that we could see more hostages released soon?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re working this intensively, and we have been for weeks.  I remain hopeful, but the less said, the better. 

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for spending time with us tonight.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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