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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani At a Joint Press Availability

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani At a Joint Press Availability

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via interpreter) In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, peace be upon you.  I am pleased to welcome His Excellency Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Doha.  We have had several meetings in the past weeks, so whether in Doha, Washington, and today we meet again in Doha.

First, I would like to inform the media that we have received a reply from Hamas with regards to the general framework of the agreement with regard to hostages.  The reply includes some comments, but in general it is positive.  However, given the sensitivity of the circumstances, we will not tackle details.  We are optimistic and we have delivered the response to the Israeli party.

We met today with His Excellency and discussed the different developments in this war, notably the unfortunate expansion that we have been seeing and the repercussions on the security and stability of the region.  In the past weeks, we have witnessed different tensions in addition to the war on Gaza that has expanded beyond the Gaza Strip to reach different countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and the Red Sea.  I take advantage of this opportunity to express my condolences to His Excellency for the death of the U.S. soldiers.  We in the state of Qatar cannot accept such actions, and we cannot accept the threatening of the coalition in the region.

Since the first day of confrontations, we have warned against the threats and the dangers of expansion of these confrontations, notably that the region witnesses long-term and longstanding conflict.  Unfortunately, these have become a reality, and it adds to the complexities – it adds to the complexity to the negotiations.  That’s why we call the concerned parties to go back to restraint, to avoid escalation, to not make any decisions that would lead to more bloodshed, to maintain the safety of civilians.

This war has so far incurred more than 20,000 deaths in Gaza and more than 60,000 injured, most of whom are kids and women.  Therefore, we call the international community to assume responsibility and call for a ceasefire.  It is time – high time – for an international community decision to a ceasefire.  I would like in this context to mention that defunding the UNRWA will have repercussions – catastrophic repercussions because more than 6 million Palestinians will not receive humanitarian assistance.  We believe in the importance of the United Nations and the UNRWA, and we have to separate between the agency as a UN agency that has strong values and the accusations against some of its employees, who are being investigated.  We cannot punish a humanitarian agency because of some accusations against some of its employees.

Throughout the past years, we have witnessed the repercussions of the lack of funding, and we fear of the complete defunding.  Based on our responsibility towards the Palestinian brothers and sisters, we affirm that Qatar will keep bringing in the people who need to be treated in Qatar.  Our efforts have led to the entry of medications to Gaza, particularly to the most affected regions and to those who are held or who are still stuck in the strip.  And thanks to His Highness’s decision, we have sent more than 2,000 tons of help, including the needs for shelter, including food and two field hospitals, and this has been successful with our partners in the UK, France, Italy, in addition to the organizing committee of churches.

Around 200 injured and patients have been sent from Gaza to Qatar, and that as part of our commitment to provide care – health care to those, in addition to 3,000 kids who have become orphaned in this – in Gaza because of the war.  At this point, all the efforts to de‑escalate and after four months of the confrontations, we have all been unable to stop bloodshed and violence.  The hospitals are still being targeted, schools are being bombarded, and refugees are being killed while moving for the first, second, and third time.

Your Excellency, we appreciate your constant and our constant cooperation and collaboration in different fields – political, humanitarian – and we hope that our efforts that have started four months ago to lead to a ceasefire and to reach a solution that is just and fair for the region.  I seize this opportunity to thank you for all your efforts, and I thank all our partners in the UN, Egypt, France, and other partners who are collaborating with us on different humanitarian and relief assistance to reduce the size of this humanitarian crisis.

I look forward to sustaining these discussions between our two countries in order to reach a solution and the stability in this region, to put an end to this war, and to look forward for a better future for the region.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  And Prime Minister, Mohammed, thank you.  Thank you for the, as always, very productive discussions that we had today – this evening with the emir and with the prime minister as well.

We’ve had constant engagement at the highest levels of our respective governments going back many, many weeks now – months – with an intense focus on securing the release of hostages and getting an extended pause to help address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.  And we saw the results of the last pause – the initial pause: 105 hostages out, a significant increase in humanitarian assistance getting in, the repair of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and more broadly, reduced regional tensions at the same time.

So together with Qatar and Egypt, we put forward, as you know, a serious proposal that was aimed at not simply repeating the previous agreement but expanding it.  As the prime minister just said, Hamas responded tonight.  We’re reviewing that response now, and I’ll be discussing it with the Government of Israel tomorrow.  There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and, indeed, essential.  And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.

We had meetings already on this trip in Riyadh, in Cairo, now today in Doha, focused on ensuring as well that we can use any pause to continue to build out plans for the day after in Gaza – the security, humanitarian, reconstruction, governance – all bringing real challenges with them, but that’s exactly why we are and need to be focused on them now.  We’re also determined to use any pause to continue to pave a diplomatic path forward to a just and lasting peace and security for the region.  That is the best way – the best way to ensure that October 7th and the tragic loss of life by Israelis and Palestinians is not repeated.

When I was last in the region a few weeks ago, I said then that there is a very powerful path that we can see before us to actually get to lasting peace and security, and it’s coming ever more sharply into focus: an Israel that is integrated into the region with security guarantees from its neighbors and partners alongside a practical, timebound, irreversible path to a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel, with the necessary security arrangements for both peoples.

On this visit, one of our key objectives has been to continue to hammer out the substance and sequence of all the steps that would be necessary to enable us to move down that path.  Now, that’s one path.  It’s clear – and you can see that it gets us to a destination that would benefit virtually everyone in the region and, as I said, bring lasting peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

But there are those who want to move the region in a different direction and take a different path and who are actively working to sabotage every effort to move towards lasting peace and security.  Just look at what we’ve seen in the last couple of months and indeed in the last couple of weeks.  Attacks in Syria and Iraq, attacks on Israel from Lebanon, attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, attacks in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members, and of course, the attack on Israel on October 7th.  Each and every one carried out by groups trained, armed, funded, and formed by Iran.

Iran and its proxies claim that they’re carrying out these attacks somehow on behalf of the Palestinian people.  That is absolutely wrong and it’s a cover for their true intent.  Not a single one of these attacks has advanced the rights, the opportunities, the security, and the dignity of the Palestinians.  They are all fundamentally about Iran’s quest for power.

Since October 7th, we’ve been very clear in warning any actor that would try to take advantage of the conflict:  Don’t do it.  We’ve been very clear that we do not want to see the conflict expanded, we don’t want to see escalation; but we’ve also been clear that if our personnel, if our people are threatened, if they’re attacked, we will respond.  We will defend them.

We are responding to violence, not initiating it.  We’re seeking to prevent escalation, not fuel it.  And as we do this, we will continue to use every tool available to us to reach an extended pause that gets hostages out, that gets more assistance in, that brings calm to Gaza’s civilians, and that keeps diplomacy moving forward toward an integrated and more secure region.

In these efforts, we’re very fortunate to have Qatar as a partner.  Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We open the floor to questions.  Saber Ayoub, Al Araby TV.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Saber Ayoub, Al Araby TV.  My first question is addressed to His Excellency Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs.  What is the evaluation of Qatar for the regional developments?  And what is its message to concerned parties with these developments?

(In English) (Inaudible) is to the Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken:  Why it seems too hard for the United States to end the war on Gaza, or at least to push for a ceasefire?  Are you or are we going to witness soon a ceasefire?  Is it going to be signed here, or truce signed here in Qatar or agreed here in Qatar, in Doha?  And lastly, before you travel to Israel and meet Netanyahu, I’m going to ask the same question that Politico asked today:  Is Mr. Antony Blinken too nice to be Secretary of State?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via interpreter) With regards to our evaluation of the regional developments, we have since the beginning had a clear position:  War should end; there shouldn’t be an expansion of conflicts in the region.  Unfortunately, we witness an expansion of tensions.  There are some forces taking advantage and using this conflict, whereas there are forces that seek to create these tensions.  We believe and we see that the way towards solution and de-escalation is reaching and achieving a just and fair solution for the Palestinian cause, in addition to putting an end to the war on Gaza.

We always call every – all parties, concerned parties, to self-restraint.  We are in communication with all and we do not want to see an escalation in the region.  We do not want to witness more death in addition to what we are seeing today to – from challenges to the freedom of navigation, which would affect not only the security of the region but trade overall.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The best path forward, the most effective path forward right now to get an extended period of calm and to work toward an end to the conflict, is through an agreement on the hostages.  And that’s what we’re intensely focused on with our partners here in Qatar, Egypt, working with Israel.  And of course, now that we have the response from Hamas to the proposal that was put on the table a week or so ago, we’re going to be very intensely focused on that.  And again, that offers the prospect of extended calm, hostages out, more assistance in.  That would clearly be beneficial to everyone, and I think that offers the best path forward.  But there is a lot of work to be done to achieve it.  We’re very focused on doing that work.

Now, of course, as we’ve said all along, all of this could have been over yesterday, last month, three months ago, four months ago, first of all if Hamas had not committed the atrocities of October 7th; and second, after that, had they stopped hiding behind civilians, had they put down their weapons, and had they surrendered.  But that, of course, has not happened.  So the best path now is to see if we can make real this renewed hostage agreement.

I’ll let others speak to my character, and all I can say is that most people who assume the position that I have the great privilege of assuming now don’t get there by being nice all the time.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Second question, Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hello, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Prime Minister.  My first question is to both of you.  I understand there are sensitivities about Hamas response, but I am wondering, Mr. Secretary, how do you plan to overcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to a permanent ceasefire after the phases of this deal?  Was there anything in the Hamas response that would – that you think might change his mind?

And Mr. Prime Minister, could you help us understand why the reply took a week?  Was it the communication challenges, the difficulty to reach Yahya Sinwar?  Are you worried that the fighting would actually hamper – is actually hampering the communications on this important area of negotiation?

And one more for you, Mr. Secretary.  I’m going to try to ask a similar question that my Qatari colleague asked, maybe a little less directly.  It’s been four months into this war, and this is your fifth trip, and yet the United States seems unable to meaningfully influence Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on some fundamental issues that you yourself advocate for – Palestinian – the creation of a Palestinian statehood, how long Israel’s military campaign in Gaza will last, minimizing civilian casualties.  Aren’t you worried that this is – this makes America look weak and it undercuts its ability to rally allies and partners in other foreign policy issues?  And in that sense, what can you do differently, for example, tomorrow?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Want me to start?

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Yeah, please, go ahead.  Three questions for you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, Humeyra, on the hostage question, I appreciate you asking the question.  You’ll appreciate that I’m not going to answer it because the sensitivity of this matter is such that we’re just not going to get into any of the details.  All I can say is what you’ve heard from both me and the prime minister, which is that we have received the response to the proposal; we are studying it intensely.  It’s been shared with the Israelis.  I’ll pick up that conversation tomorrow in Israel when I’m there, and we will be working as hard as we possibly can to try to get an agreement so that we can move forward with not only a renewed but an expanded agreement on hostages and all the benefits that that would bring with it.

Virtually everything that we do in diplomacy in general and in the case of this crisis more specifically is a process.  It’s almost never flipping a light switch.  And it requires being in there with your sleeves rolled up every single day to try to make progress on all of the areas where we’ve been determined to make progress.

And I think if you look at the record, we’ve seen important steps taken, significant steps taken that I would argue would not have happened without our engagement and our intervention, including the provision of humanitarian assistance to begin with to Gaza, which was not the case in the days following October 7th; the significant expansion of that assistance; the efforts to open more crossing points into Gaza; the work that we’re doing every single day to try to strengthen protection for civilians; our efforts as well to prevent the conflict from escalating.  And despite some of the recent actions that have been necessary in response to violence that we’ve seen directed at our personnel and our people, we’ve been working, I think effectively, to do that.

In each and every one of these areas we have achieved results that had we not been engaged, I believe would not have been achieved.  But in all of these areas there is much more work to be done, and in a number of places we need to see, as I’ve said before, real and clear results – not simply a change in intent, but a change in what actually results.  And I will be discussing all of that when I’m in Israel tomorrow, as we have throughout this trip.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, regarding your question about why the response took too long, of course there are a number of challenges that we are facing throughout the negotiations.  It’s not something new, and what’s happening on the ground in Gaza, it affects the course of the negotiations all the time, and this is something that we’ve been highlighting in many occasions.  Communication was representing some challenges, but also the negotiation itself – it took some time in order to get them to a place where we get that response.

Overall, as the Secretary mentioned here and we have mentioned earlier, that it’s better not – it’s not also for the benefit of the negotiations to reveal any of the details, but the overall prospect of this looks for us, at least as we received it, giving more promising and more prospects for better results.  We are hoping for to see it and to see it yielding very soon.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Third question, Abdullah Maraghi, Qatar News Agency.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Peace be upon you.  From the Qatar News Agency, my question’s addressed to His Excellency the Prime Minister.  What are the latest developments in the Qatari mediation?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via interpreter) We tackled this topic at the beginning of our press conference.  We have just received the response few hours ago.  We sent it to the Israeli side.  There will be further negotiations and discussions of the details, and we hope that we will reach an agreement, the soonest possible, in coordination and cooperation with our partners in the United States or in Egypt.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Fourth and last question, Olivia Gazis, CBS.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary, since the American retaliatory response in Iraq and Syria began on Friday, U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least twice, indicating deterrence is not yet established.  Do you have any indication to date that Tehran will stop providing weapons to its proxies or otherwise work to constrain their behavior?  And did you hear any support on this trip from your Arab partners to continue these strikes?

On normalization efforts, do you believe that you now have with the Saudis something in hand that will change Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declared opposition to an eventual Palestinian state?  Or does a broader regional agreement require different leadership in Israel?

And Mr. Prime Minister, the U.S. has said that last week’s strikes in Iraq and Syria are the beginning and not the end of its response.  You called this earlier an unfortunate expansion.  Do you view the actions that the U.S. is now taking as escalatory?

And if I may follow up on my colleague on the hostage deal, you mentioned positive comments from Hamas.  There have been consistent reports of divisions within the group.  Are you confident that this response that you’ve gotten is from a unified consensus?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Olivia, thank you.  First, and I don’t want to speak for colleagues or other countries, but I think it’s fair to say that all of our partners very much oppose and reject the attacks that have been perpetrated by a variety of groups, often directed at us but that affect everyone’s interests.  The Red Sea – the Houthi attacks on shipping there affect the interests of virtually everyone in the world given the implications that it has for shipping that’s so important to countries around the world, with 15 percent of global traffic going through the Red Sea.  And we’ve already seen the adjustments that shipping companies, countries have had to make in ways that’s imposing added costs on consumers and countries around the world.

So that, the attacks on our personnel – including the attack that killed three Americans in Jordan – I’ve heard nothing but condemnation of those attacks, opposition to them, and a determination that, one way or another, they cease.  We’ve been, as I said, very clear from day one that anyone trying to use the conflict in Gaza as an excuse to expand the conflict, to attack our personnel, to attack shipping, to engage in any form of escalation that spreads the conflict, we would stand strongly against that.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We have been very clear that we don’t want the conflict to escalate.  We are – we’ll do everything we can to prevent that – excuse me.  But at the same time, we will defend our personnel anywhere and everywhere that they’re under threat.  We’ll see the results.

As you’ve heard clearly from Secretary Austin as well as from the President, the response that we’ve undertaken over the last few days is going to continue, and it’s very important that not only do those engaged in these attacks get the message but that they act on it by ceasing the attacks against our people and personnel.  And we will do what’s necessary until that happens.

Second part of your question – in Saudi Arabia, I had the opportunity to discuss again with Prince Mohammed bin Salman the way forward really for the region as a whole.  And I said a few minutes ago how there is an incredibly powerful path that that lies before us, but it’s going to require everyone involved to make hard decisions.  None of this comes easy.  But with regard specifically to normalization, the crown prince reiterated Saudi Arabia’s strong interest in pursuing that.  But he also made clear what he had said to me before, which is that in order to do that two things are required: an end to the conflict in Gaza and a clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So we know the immense benefits that would come for everyone concerned with Israel’s further integration into the region, starting with the benefits for Israel.  That’s something that Israelis will have to decide for themselves.  And again, all of this requires difficult, hard decisions made all the more challenging given the focus on the conflict in Gaza.  But these are questions that fundamentally our partners will have to answer, answer for themselves, answer for everyone else.  We can’t do that for them.  All we can do is keep our focus on what we strongly believe is the best answer for the long-term security, the long-term peace for Israel, for the region, as well as for the Palestinian people.

And if we’re able to move down that pathway, it also does something else.  It isolates those who reject it, starting with Iran.  And in that sense, in terms of dealing with some of the most profound security challenges that Israel faces and has faced for years, it will be in a much stronger position as part of an integrated region to deal with them.  But again, these are decisions that will have to be made.  None of them are easy.  And we’ll continue the effort to prepare all the diplomatic steps necessary to be able to move down that path if that’s the path that everyone chooses.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, regarding the U.S. response, first of all, as I have expressed in many occasion, Qatar reject and condemn any attack that infringe other countries’ sovereignty or leading to killing citizens – and of course they are the U.S. citizens, but also it’s part of their mission within the coalition which is – Qatar member in.  And of course, we totally understand that each country has the right to protect its sovereignty and its own citizen with the measures they are seeing according to international law.  Yet, our advice to all the parties all the time that we should of course take in consideration what’s happening in the region and try to avoid any escalatory measure with all our understanding to the context of this attack.

Regarding your second question about Hamas and their – and the division in between both the inside and the outside, our dealing in its entirety for all over the last years has been with the political office, and this channel that we are using has been always just giving us their responses that represent both, and that’s what we have seen in the first pause.   And hopefully also with the current responses that we are having that will lead to the second, hopefully, pause and exchange of hostages.  I think that’s the only channel that we have, and that’s – has been always effective for us.  So we don’t see or we don’t – we are not in position to examine their unity and their division.  Our – what’s leading us really are the results of any agreement that we would have.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) With this, we close our press conference for today.  We thank His Excellency, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and His Excellency Secretary of State, as well as the media.  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-qatari-prime-minister-and-minister-of-foreign-affairs-mohammed-bin-abdulrahman-al-thani-at-a-joint-press-availability-2/

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