QUESTION: We go now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is at the State Department. Good morning to you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Tension is very high in the region. Are you changing your security posture? Are you pulling any U.S. personnel out of the area?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Margaret, we are concerned at the possibility of Iranian proxies escalating their attacks against our own personnel, our own people. We’re taking every measure to make sure that we can defend them and, if necessary, respond decisively. Not at all what we’re looking for, not at all what we want, but we’ll be prepared if that’s what they choose to do.
QUESTION: So that sounds like quite possibly pulling people out. In terms of the threat from Iran you just referenced there, President Biden in his Oval Office address said that the U.S. would hold Iran accountable. What does accountable mean?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what you’ve seen already, Margaret, is a very clear message from the President, backed up by the deployment of two of our largest aircraft carrier battle groups, to make sure that it’s clear: No one should take advantage of this moment to escalate, to further attacks on Israel, or for that matter attacks on us, on our personnel. And this is not by way of in terms of what we’re doing by provocation; it’s designed to deter, designed to make clear that no one should use this moment in any way to escalate.
QUESTION: We’ll stay tuned. In terms of what’s happening in Gaza, I know there are an estimated five to six hundred Americans there. Is there any chance Israel lets some of those Americans out or Egypt allows some of those Americans in?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You’re exactly right. And to date, at least, Hamas has blocked them from leaving, showing once again its total disregard for civilians of any kind who are stuck in Gaza.
QUESTION: Have you asked the Israeli Government to delay in order to give you more time to broker the release of these hostages?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, step back for a second because it’s important to remember what happened – it’s incredible how quickly that gets lost – because it was only a couple of weeks ago that Hamas invaded Israel with its terrorist fighters and slaughtered – and I use that word very deliberately – slaughtered so many people.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, men, women, young children, babies, old people, you name it. And they continue to rain rockets down on Israel. When I was there a few days ago, we were in the – we had to take shelter a couple of times because of incoming rockets from Hamas.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So my point is this: No country – no country – can be expected to tolerate this, to live with this. And as we’ve said from the start, Israel has both the right and even the obligation not only to defend itself but to try to make sure that, to the best of its ability, this can’t happen again.
So we’ve talked to the Israelis about what they’re planning. We give them our best advice. It’s important, as we’ve said, not only what they do but how they do it, particularly when it comes to making sure that civilians are as protected as they possibly can be in this crossfire of Hamas’s making.
But in terms of what we’re talking to Israel about in their – with regard to their military operations, it really is focused on both how they do it and how best to achieve the results that they seek.
QUESTION: So let’s talk about how they do it. You’re right to lay out just how absolutely horrific that attack was two weeks ago. Turning the page to what has happened during the following two weeks, UNICEF says 1,524 children have killed in the Gaza Strip during these bombings. Why isn’t the U.S. calling for at least a temporary ceasefire?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, Margaret, when I hear the stories, when I see the pictures of young children who have lost their lives in this conflict of Hamas’s making – whoever they are, wherever they are, whether they’re Palestinians, whether they’re Israelis, whether they’re Jews or Muslims – it hits me and I know it hits virtually everyone right in the heart. And that’s why it’s so important to do everything possible to protect them, and why it’s so important to do everything possible to get assistance to those who need it – food, medicine, water. We’ve —
QUESTION: So why not ask for at least a temporary pause in the bombing —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve seen —
QUESTION: — as was proposed at the UN this week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve seen, first of all, that in order to get assistance in, we’ve had – we’ve had that happen. – and you saw the first 20 trucks go in yesterday; I expect more will follow today and the day after that – we want to make sure that we have sustained delivery of food, medicine, water, the things that people need.
At the same time, I said something a minute ago that we have to remember: Israel has to do everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Freezing things in place where they are now would allow Hamas to remain where it is and to repeat what it’s done sometime in the future. No country could accept that.
QUESTION: One of my colleagues, who is on the ground in Israel and has traveled to the West Bank, conducted an interview with Mr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician I’m sure you know. He said he doesn’t understand why President Biden, when he was in Israel, did not say, “Enough is enough. You wanted to respond and you responded; you killed 4,000 Palestinians. Stop.” Instead, you’re encouraging a ground invasion.” How do you respond to “enough is enough”?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: “Enough is enough” should have been the case with Hamas two weeks ago. It would be good to hear the entire world speaking clearly and with one voice about the actions that Hamas took, about the slaughter of people, about the fact that that should be absolutely intolerable, unacceptable to anyone, anywhere, any country, any people.
QUESTION: In terms of U.S. interests in the region, one of America’s closest allies, the king of Jordan, gave an impassioned speech saying “Palestinian lives [seem to] matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives. The application of international law is optional. And human rights appear to have boundaries based on races and religions.” That’s a warning from one of America’s closest friends in the region that this is a dangerous message to be sending and it could have blowback. Are you concerned?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Margaret, every life – Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Arab – every life has equal worth. When I see the reports, when I see the photographs, when I hear the stories of young children, Palestinian children, who’ve been killed or injured, it hits me right in the gut, too, just as it does when I hear – when I see these other stories, wherever it is.
We had here in our own country a little boy, six years old, Wadea in Chicago, who was viciously murdered, apparently because he was a Palestinian American. A little boy, six years old, didn’t do anything to anyone. I feel that strongly across the board, no matter where it is.
But this is on Hamas. And the fact is Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people. It doesn’t represent their just cause. It doesn’t represent their aspiration, and legitimate aspiration for a state of their own. On the contrary, it does everything to make life worse and more miserable for the (inaudible).
QUESTION: Does the U.S. assess that it is actually possible for Israel to destroy both Hamas as an entity and its ideology? Is it actually a military possibility?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The best way, the only way to defeat an ideology, no matter how warped – and in the case of Hamas, it’s about as warped as it possibly can be – is to make sure that there is a better, a clearer alternative for people. And that alternative is very clear and it’s very stark. We have on the one hand countries throughout the region who want to come together to integrate, to normalize relations, and to lift up the rights of the Palestinian people to be able to have a future where they work together, go to school together, do business together, travel to each other’s countries. That’s one vision.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The other vision is the vision that Hamas has – death, destruction, nihilism, darkness. Now, the responsibility that those of us who believe in the first vision have is to do everything possible to make it real so that people not only see it but they can achieve it. That’s exactly what we were working on before this horrific attack on October 7th, and that’s the vision that we need to get back to.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: But at the same time, we also have to deal with the fact that Hamas represents an active, ongoing threat, and that has to be dealt with too.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Margaret.