SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening, everyone. We are here at what is an extremely difficult and very tenuous time for the region in the wake of the slaughter perpetrated by Hamas.
We came here with four key objectives: to make clear that the United States stands with Israel; to prevent the conflict from spreading to other places; to work on securing the release of hostages, including American citizens; and to address the humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza.
We started, as you know, in Israel. And it was important to make it very clear that the United States has Israel’s back. We will stand with it today, tomorrow, and every day, and we’re doing that in word and also in deed. I spent time with Prime Minister Netanyahu to go through the needs that Israel may have to make sure it can effectively defend itself, and we’ve already seen a lot of that assistance moving forward, and that’s a conversation that’ll continue.
Israel has the right – indeed it has the obligation – to defend itself against these attacks from Hamas, and to try to do what it can to make sure that this never happens again. As I said in Tel Aviv, as President Biden has said, the way that Israel does this matters. It needs to do it in a way that affirms the shared values that we have for human life and human dignity, taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.
After we left Israel, we’ve gone now to – I think I’ve lost track, but to six countries in the region: Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, now here in Egypt. And the purpose of seeing all of our partners was first and foremost to listen to them, to hear how they’re seeing this crisis, and to look at what we can do together to deal with many of the concerns that it’s raised.
What I’ve heard from virtually every partner was a determination, a shared view that we have to do everything possible to make sure this doesn’t spread to other places; a shared view to safeguard innocent lives; a shared view to get assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who need it, and we’re working very much on that.
I made clear that it cannot be, must not be business as usual with Hamas going forward. And at the same time, as I said, we’re determined to do everything we can to address the needs of people in Gaza. Civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas’s atrocities. We are now very actively engaged with countries in the region, with the United Nations, with Israel, to make sure, to the best of our ability, that people can get out of harm’s way and that the assistance they need – the food, water, medicine – can get in.
Today the President appointed one of our most senior diplomats, one of our most experienced diplomats, Ambassador David Satterfield, to lead our humanitarian efforts. Ambassador Satterfield, he was previously ambassador to Lebanon, to Türkiye. He’s been here in this region for a long time. He’ll actually be here tomorrow to start working on those efforts to make sure we’re coordinating everything, and as I said, moving assistance in to people who need it and helping people get out of harm’s way.
From here, we’re heading back to Israel. I want an opportunity to share everything that I’ve heard, that I’ve learned over the last few days visiting with our other partners and to talk about the way forward with our Israeli allies and friends.
This is a difficult and a challenging time, but there’s a determination that I’ve heard across the board to work through it, to get through it, and to do that together.
Happy to take some questions.
MR MILLER: Iain.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is it still possible to limit the scope of this widening war given what’s happening on the border with Lebanon? And can you also tell us what you said today to President Sisi about the confusion on the – at the Rafah crossing?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, there’s a determination in every country I went to to make sure that this conflict doesn’t spread. President Biden has been very clear about this, and you’ve heard him repeatedly say to anyone, state or non-state, that is thinking of taking advantage of this situation: don’t do it. And we’ve backed up those words with concrete actions, including the deployment now of our two largest aircraft carrier battle groups to the region. That’s not meant as a provocation; it’s meant as a deterrent. It’s meant to make clear that no one should do anything that could add fuel to the fire in any other place. So I think that’s very clear.
It’s also clear from our conversations with all of these other countries that they strongly share that view and they are using their own influence, their own relationships to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
With regard to Rafah, I had a very good conversation with President El-Sisi. We have put in place – Egypt has put in place a lot of material support for people in Gaza. And Rafah will be reopened. We’re putting in place with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel, with others, a mechanism by which to get the assistance in and to get it to people who need it. And that’s exactly why Ambassador Satterfield is now taking this on – the President appointed him today. He’ll be here on the ground tomorrow to work out all the practical details so we can move this forward.
MR MILLER: Will.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, about – following up on Iain’s question about the concerns about a northern front in Israel, is the U.S. prepared to back up Israel, to defend it, if it heats up there from – if it – attacks heat up from Hizballah, Hamas, or other groups? And then just quickly on your recent conversations with Prince Mohammed and with President El-Sisi, did you hear any ideas you liked from them on a ceasefire or summit? And would that be appropriate and would the U.S. support that before Israel engages in its campaign in Gaza?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t think we can be more clear than we’ve been that when it comes to Israel security, we have Israel’s back. The President’s been clear about it; I’ve been clear about it; the entire administration has been clear about it. And again, we’ve backed that up not only with the words that we’re saying, but with what we’re actually doing, including the deployment of these aircraft carrier battle groups – again, not to provoke anyone but to send a very clear message of deterrence that no one should do anything that widens this conflict in any way or that furthers aggression against Israel from any other direction. So we’ve been clear about that.
I had very good conversations both with the crown prince in Saudi Arabia and here in Egypt with President El-Sisi, and also heard, I think, a lot of good ideas about some of the things we need to do moving forward, including practical ideas on getting assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who are in need, but also good and important conversations about the future and where we hope, ultimately, together we can bring this in a much more positive way.
In terms of the conference that Egypt is putting forward, look, we think these kinds of initiatives are good ideas. Anything that can look in practical ways at how we can help get assistance to Palestinians who need it, that can look at ways to ensure that this conflict doesn’t spread, that can look to the future as well, I think is a positive thing.
And what’s very clear is this: There are two very different visions for the future and what the Middle East can and should be. There’s a vision that we very strongly espouse that has countries in the region normalizing their relations, integrating, working together in common purpose, and upholding and bringing forth the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people. That’s one vision; it’s very clear. There’s another vision that Hamas has demonstrated in the most horrific way, and that’s a vision of death, of destruction, of nihilism, of terrorism. That’s a vision that does nothing to advance aspirations for Palestinians, that does nothing to help create better futures for people in the region, and does everything to bring total darkness to everyone that it’s able to affect.
So I think the two – the paths are clear, the visions are clear. And I have no doubt what path people – the overwhelming majority of people in the region will choose and will prefer if given the opportunity. So our responsibility, all of us who believe in that first path – and that’s everyone I talked to – our responsibility is to make it real, to bring it to light, to make it a clear, affirmative choice. And that’s what we’re determined to do. We have to get through this crisis first, and we’re working to do that, but we also have to get back in a very clear, practical way to that vision, to making it real. If we do that, everyone in this region will be in a much better place and so will the rest of the world.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.