For the latest on the Israeli – Hamas conflict, Secretary of State Antony Blinken opens up in this exclusive interview with Martha Radfatz of ABC in Washington, D.C..
Time Africa brings you the transcripts:
QUESTION: We appreciate your time this morning, Mr. Secretary. You had five Democratic senators send a letter to you, the Defense Secretary, the President this week calling for increased accountability for Israel’s use of American weapons. And yet your State Department is now pushing through the sale of 13,000 rounds of tank ammunition for Israel, bypassing congressional review generally required for foreign arms sales. Why are you doing that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Martha, first, we’re trying to do everything we can to ensure that civilians are protected, that humanitarian assistance gets into people who need it in Gaza. We are deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women, and children, and we’re working to minimize that to the greatest extent possible. When it comes to the weapons that we transfer, the rules that go along with them, those rules apply to Israel as they do to any other country, including the way they’re used and the need, the imperative of respecting international humanitarian law.
In the case of these particular weapons that you mentioned, Israel is in combat right now with Hamas, a group that viciously attacked it on October 7th; that has said that it – given the opportunity, it will repeat October 7th again and again and again; that continues to launch rockets against Israeli civilians. And we want to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas. A small portion of what has been requested is going through on an emergency basis, that is moving quickly so that Israel can have what it needs in hand. But virtually everything else is going through the regular order, through Congress. It’s very important that Congress’s voice be heard in this.
QUESTION: But let me go back to the law you mentioned. Have you seen anything in the Israel campaign, with thousands and thousands of civilians killed, many, many of those children, that you believe should be investigated or has been investigated?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are in almost constant discussions with the Israelis about – to ensure that they understand what their obligations are, to make sure that we understand how they are using whatever arms we’re providing to them, as well as more broadly. I can’t evaluate a specific instance in the moment, but I can tell you we’re looking at everything.
QUESTION: If you’re continuing to send these weapons without any accounting for how they are used except talking to the Israelis, what other leverage can you use to make sure they take greater care in this campaign?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Martha, we’re focused on two things. We’re focused on what is their intent and do they have in place – are they taking necessary measures to make sure that they’re acting in adherence with international humanitarian law and international law? But then also, what are the results? And as I’ve said before —
QUESTION: We’ve seen the results.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — there is a gap between the intent – there is a gap between the intent and the results, and that’s the gap that we’re trying to make sure is closed. Look, this could be over tomorrow. This could be over tomorrow if Hamas got out of the way of civilians instead of hiding behind them, if it put down its weapons, if it surrendered. And what there ought to be as well is a call on part – on behalf of the entire world for Hamas to do just that. That would stop this tomorrow. But in the absence of that, Israel has to take steps not only to defend itself against the ongoing attacks from Hamas, but against Hamas’s stated intent to repeat October 7th again and again if given the opportunity.
QUESTION: And I assume —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think any country faced with that would have to deal with it.
QUESTION: And Mr. Secretary, I assume that that answer is the same when it comes to the U.S. being the only country to vote against a UN ceasefire resolution on Friday?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have been a strong proponent of humanitarian pauses. In fact, because of our advocacy, because of the work we did, we got pauses, we got pauses on a daily basis, to make sure that people could get out of the way, that humanitarian supplies could get in. We helped negotiate the longer pause that resulted in the release of more than 110 hostages and that also allowed a doubling of humanitarian assistance that was getting into Gaza. But when it comes to a ceasefire in this moment, with Hamas still alive, still intact – and again, with the stated intent of repeating October 7th again and again and again – that would simply perpetuate the problem.
And so our focus is on trying to make sure that civilians are protected to the maximum extent possible, that humanitarian assistance gets in to the maximum extent possible. And again, if Hamas were to put down its weapons tomorrow, surrender tomorrow, this would be over tomorrow.
QUESTION: Let me go to this wider war. There were a series of missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea this week. The USS Carney rushed to aid them, ended up shooting down several drones fired by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. The Yemeni armed forces now saying they will prohibit the passage of any ships to Israel and consider them a target. What do you do about that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, there are a number of things. First, what we’ve seen coming from the Houthis directed at ships in that area is a threat not just to Israel, not just to us, but to dozens of countries that are engaged in shipping that depend on this corridor for goods moving about every single day. And this has actually implicated the interests, directly, of well over a dozen countries with crews from all sorts of different places, ships registered and insured in different places. So this should be and is an international concern.
We are bringing together a group that we’ve already formed and we’re trying to strengthen its work to, on a maritime basis, help protect shipping. We’ve obviously taken action, including sanctions just this week, against those who are trying to finance the Houthis and their efforts. And we’ll take whatever other actions are necessary to protect our personnel, to protect our people, as well as to protect shipping.
QUESTION: Military action? You have the former commander of CENTCOM saying we’ve given them no reason not to continue their attacks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, we will and we are looking at everything.
QUESTION: I want to move to Ukraine. This week you – aid was held up to Ukraine. How concerned are you about that with winter coming on?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Very concerned. We need to see this supplemental budget request go through as quickly as possible. Ukraine has done an extraordinary job in defending against this Russian aggression. Over the past year, it’s taken back more than 50 percent of its territory. It’s engaged in a ferocious battle right now along the eastern and southern fronts. We are running out of resources already in the bank to continue to assist them, and we need them.
I would point out as well that about 90 percent of the security assistance that we provided to Ukraine actually is invested right here in the United States in terms of the production of materials and munitions and weapons that go to the Ukrainians. It’s right here in America with good jobs. We have extraordinary burden sharing that I haven’t seen before my own experience, where, for everything that we’ve been providing to the Ukrainians to help them, our European partners and other allies around the world have provided more – military, economic, humanitarian assistance.
So the choice is very clear. If we do this and help Ukraine sustain the achievements that it’s made, help ensure that Russia continues to suffer a strategic failure in Ukraine, that’s one route to go. The other route to go is to do something that the only people who are rooting for it are in Moscow and maybe in Tehran and Beijing, which is not to provide this assistance.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much for joining us this morning. We do appreciate your time again. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.