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25 MINUTE READ
January 9, 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 holds a joint press availability with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, Qatar, January 7. 2024. (Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy)

 

 

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  (Via interpreter) In the name of Allah, peace and blessings be upon you.  I would like to welcome His Excellency Mr. Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, in Doha.  In our meeting today, we have discussed the most significant development in the region – on top of them, the war that continued for three month in Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territory, with all its political, humanitarian, and economic dimension.  We confirmed our meeting to pressure to stop the war and lift all the strains on humanitarian assistance, considering this a – in violation to humanitarian law.  We have also discussed the more development in the negotiation to release the hostages, and also the pathways to reach a ceasefire that might lift the suffering on the civilians.

We have also – I have discussed also with the Secretary the development in the regional arena, especially the attempt to stop the spread of the conflicts, which are what we are witnessing in Syria and Iraq and the Red Sea, and also the implication of that on the stability and security of the region.  Since the first day, the Qatari efforts worked closely with all the partners – international, regional – and the United States on top of them, (inaudible) in order to de-escalate and also take care of the humanitarian issues, and also the – the release of the hostages, and provide the assistance of – now 280 patients were evacuated to Doha, and we have seen 59 airplane carrying 58 ton of humanitarian assistance, including food aid, in order to support our Palestinian brothers.

And we have met several times with my friend Mr. Blinken since the 7th of October, and we have confirmed since the first day of the importance to the immediate ceasefire and the protection of the civilians, and also the – stop the spread of this conflict.  But unfortunately, despite all the international efforts and regional one, for the escalation – and after – and the containment after three month of the conflict, the war in Gaza still ongoing with an increasing to (inaudible), and more than 22,000 Palestinian have been killed, and thousands and thousands of injuries, and the numbers are increasing.  And not reaching an immediate ceasefire will – the numbers will increase over the days.  It is – here we have reduced to the images of the death and catastrophes, and women and children and civilians become numbers that we only read on the news or listen on the news.

This is a big test for our humanities and that force us not to be used to this scene that we see every single day on the news.  The hospitals are still being a target, schools also, and people fleeing their homes are still killed, and also the threat of forced displacement, which might lead to another new Palestinian catastrophe, and also this provocative statements of some of the fanatic ministers of Israel, which we condemned.

It is also sad that we see that managing the complaint – and the violence is increasing, and we believe that we need to contain this crisis as soon as possible and to reach a ceasefire in Gaza which will also help on de-escalating the – other region, and despite we look for sustainable solutions for peace in the region.  However, the focus is now on the stop of the fighting and confirm that Gaza is part of the Palestinian – occupied Palestinian territory, which need to be under the leadership of the Palestinian, and the Palestinian people are the one who have – who – and there is no peace in the region without a peaceful solution based on the international legitimacy.

Mr.  Secretary, we evaluate – highly evaluate our partnership with the United States of America and the continuous consultation.  I would like to thank you for your support, ongoing support, for our efforts that focus now on reaching a true (inaudible) ceasefire and the release of the hostages.  And we always look for a role for the United States of America to put an end for this conflict, and also to reach a sustainable solution that gives the Palestinian people their right in – their own state.  And we also look forward for more consultation on all the different topics that we work together with your friendly country, and also to improve our bilateral relation in all the aspect – political, militarily, and economically.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Mr. Prime Minister – Mohammed, my friend – thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you today and for the very good meetings that we had.

And indeed, thank you for the work that we’ve been doing from the start, since October 7th and the horrific attacks on Israel.  It’s now, as you said, been three months since those attacks, and this is a moment of profound tension in the region.  This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering.

So from day one, among other priorities, we have been intensely focused on working to prevent the conflict from spreading, and that is indeed a major focus of what is now my fourth visit to the region since October 7.  It was at the heart of discussions yesterday with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis, this morning with King Abdullah in Jordan, and in the meetings that I just had with the Amir and with the prime minister.

We share a commitment to ensure that the conflict does not expand, and I think we also share a commitment to use the influence, the relationships, the ties that we have with different parties in the region to try to avoid escalation and to deter new fronts from opening.  This is not just a regional issue; it’s a matter of global concern.

And that’s certainly the case when it comes to the Houthi attacks on freedom of navigation in one of the world’s busiest trade corridors: the Red Sea.  These attacks have directly affected the citizens, the cargo, the commercial interests of more than 40 countries.  They’ve disrupted or diverted nearly 20 percent of global shipping.  More than a dozen shipping companies have had to reroute thousands of vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.  And what that means is it takes longer to get goods to where they’re supposed to go, it increases the cost and that cost gets passed on to consumers around the world – whether it’s food, whether it’s fuel, whether it’s medicine, humanitarian assistance, you name it.

So these attacks by the Houthis are hurting people around the world – most of all, the poorest and most vulnerable populations, including in Yemen, including in Gaza.  That’s why the United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian together with more than 20 countries to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping across the Red Sea.  It’s also why over a dozen countries have made clear that the Houthis will be held accountable for future attacks.  We’ll continue to defend maritime security in the region as part of our overall effort to deter and prevent further regional conflict, to ensure the free flow of commerce that’s been so vital to people around the world.

In all of my meetings over the last two days.  We’ve discussed ongoing efforts to better protect civilians in Gaza and to get more humanitarian assistance to them, and to get the remaining hostages out and home with their loved ones.  Qatar was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the simultaneous release of more than 100 hostages, including American citizens, and a pause in the fighting that, during that time, enabled us to double the flow of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.  We’re deeply grateful, Prime Minister, to you – to the Amir – for your ongoing leadership in this effort, for the tireless work which you undertook and that continues, to try to free the remaining hostages.

To those still being held hostage, to their loved ones, to their families, I promise you this:  The United States will continue to work relentlessly to bring you home, to get you together with your family and loved ones.

Now we’ve made some measurable progress in increasing the aid getting into Gaza, including through the opening of Kerem Shalom, but it is still insufficient to meet the massive need.  And then once in Gaza, the barriers to getting the aid to where it needs to go beyond Rafah remain far too high.  Too many Palestinian civilians are suffering from insufficient access to food, to water, to medicine, to other essential supplies – children most of all.  We continue to raise with Israel the need to do everything possible to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and I will do so again when I’m there later this week.  I will also raise the imperative of doing more to prevent civilian casualties.  Far too many Palestinians, innocent Palestinians, have already been killed.

The United Nations is playing an irreplaceable role in delivering and distributing lifesaving assistance to people in Gaza, as the United Nations Security Council affirmed in Resolution 2720.  We welcome the appointment of Sigrid Kaag as the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator.  I had the pleasure of working very closely with Sigrid Kaag when she led the UN mission that successfully eliminated the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons.  I witnessed firsthand her professionalism, her integrity, her effectiveness.  She has the full support of the United States, and we expect that she will have the full cooperation of every country in the region.

This morning I had an opportunity to meet with the UN staff of the World Food Programme at an aid distribution warehouse in Jordan.  I thanked them for the genuinely heroic work they’re doing, putting their own lives in danger, to try to get assistance to Palestinian men, women, and children.  And I can say the same about other extraordinary relief workers, most of them in the United Nations system, who are doing this day in, day out.  We’re proud to be their supporters as the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

The experts that I met with this morning spoke to conditions in Gaza where over 90 percent of the population is facing acute food insecurity, going days and nights without anything to eat.  That can cause lifelong, irreversible harm for children.  An immediate increase in aid is essential, as is improving deconfliction procedures to ensure its safe and secure delivery, including to northern Gaza.

As Israel moves to a lower-intensity phase of its military operation in the north, the United Nations can also play a crucial role in evaluating what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return home.  Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow.  They cannot and they must not be pressed to leave Gaza.  We reject the statements by some Israeli ministers and lawmakers calling for a resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza.  These statements are irresponsible, they’re inflammatory, and they only make it harder to secure a future of a Palestinian-led Gaza with Hamas no longer in control and with terrorist groups no longer able to threaten Israel’s security.

Of course, even as we focused on our immediate goals, we also must work toward lasting peace and security.  The United States has a vision for how to get there, a regional approach that delivers lasting security for Israel and a state for the Palestinian people.  In my meetings on this trip, we also discussed what each country can do to provide the assurances and the incentives required to build a more secure, a more stable, a more peaceful future for the region.  And my takeaway from the discussions so far, including here with our friends in Qatar, is that our partners are willing to have these difficult conversations and to make hard decisions.

All of us feel a stake in forging the way forward.  All of us recognize that we have to work together.  That is the only way forward, and it cannot wait.  So I look forward to carrying on these discussions with more partners in the days ahead.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) My – the first question for the – His Excellency the Prime Minister.  We see so many changes in the region, and there are so many targets, all (inaudible) leaders like Saleh al-Aruri in Beirut, and also Hizballah leaders in Syria, and also inside Iran.  What is the implication of that on the region, and does had anything to do with the Qatari mediation?

(In English) Second question goes to Secretary Blinken.  Actually we can see that 110 journalists been targeted, targeted by the IDF, including our colleague – son of our colleague, Mahmoud Wael al-Dahdouh — Hamza Wael al-Dahdouh.  What is the situation as – is the United States condemning targeting journalist, innocent journalist?  And what is the situation – what is the position of the United States Government in this case?

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  (Via interpreter) Concerning the – your question in relation to the escalation that we witnessed in the region, since the beginning – since the beginning we have warned of the expansion of the crisis, and this is a likelihood and it’s a threat to everyone in the region that we live in.  So the importance of working together, and our joint efforts need to be – to stop this war to spread the – to stop the spread of the conflict, and that was our main focus.  And also to have big part of our talks with my friend, Mr. Blinken, the recent events that we have witnessed with our – in Lebanon or in Syria are – unfortunately are a violation to the sovereignty of those countries, and we see also continuous violations.

However, our main target (inaudible) purpose is the stop of this war and to avoid a bigger escalation in the region.  And the state of Qatar is always seeking by working with all of the parties in order to diffuse and de-escalate.  And we work also closely with our friends the Americans and other countries to reach that result.  As we have – I have mentioned before, we believe that the solution is to stop this war in Gaza, and we believe that will have a positive implication on our whole region.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I am deeply, deeply sorry for the almost unimaginable loss suffered by your colleague Wael al-Dahdouh.  I am a parent myself.  I can’t begin to imagine the horror that he’s experienced, not once, but now twice.  This is an unimaginable tragedy, and that’s also been the case for, as I said, far too many innocent Palestinian men, women, and children – civilians, also journalists, Palestinian and other.  The Committee to Protect Journalists has found that now some 70 journalists have been killed in Gaza.  One is far too many.  And the value that we place upon their work – your work – in bringing information, facts, to the world – has never been more important.

So this is why we are pressing the need, the imperative not only of making sure that humanitarian assistance can get to people who need it, but that people are protected from harm from this conflict in the first place.  And ultimately, it’s why ending the conflict and finding, as we just discussed, a genuinely durable, lasting peace where Israel does not have to fear the repeat of October 7th, and men, women, and children can live in peace and security in Gaza, in the West Bank, wherever they may be.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Second question from the French news agency.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Callum Paton from AFP.  Prime Minster Thani, I was wondering if you could give us a status report on Qatar’s mediation efforts, on a possible hostage exchange between Israel and Hamas, a truce in Gaza, and whether a strike on a Hamas deputy leader in Beirut on Tuesday has – has produced a particular obstacle to these efforts.

And to Secretary Blinken, the same question, really.  Is there any pressure on what Washington can bring to bear?  You’ve talked about doing everything you can, but are there any specifics you could mention and – to bring about a hostage exchange of the kind that we saw in November?  And do strikes like the kind that we saw on Tuesday in Beirut put that kind of mediation out of reach?

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Thank you very much.  Actually, regarding the negotiations, has been ongoing.  Yes, we go through challenges, ups and down, through all the process.  And of course, having one of – the senior leader of Hamas being killed is something that can affect such a complicated process.  Yet we are not giving up; we are moving forward.  We are continuing our discussions with the parties and trying to achieve as soon as possible an agreement that can bring assistance for humanitarian relief and the release of the hostages.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I have little to add, and you’ll understand why, among other, the less I say about this, the better, except to say that we are relentlessly focused on bringing everyone home, and this just was the subject of our conversations this evening as well.

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible) Andrea Mitchell, NBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary – thank you.  Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about the appropriateness of the Defense Secretary being in the hospital for days, including in intensive care, without telling the President of the United States, the National Security Advisor, or, to our knowledge, anyone else in the national security Cabinet, of his condition, especially at a time when his deputy was on vacation and the number three at the Pentagon has not yet been confirmed, in the middle of two wars.  Were you aware of this?  When did you learn of it?  What is your threshold for transparency for a national security official, a Cabinet member, such as yourself, under those conditions?

And a second question would be whether the suffering that you obviously feel so deeply of the Palestinians, of all sides in this war, has reached a point with, as you point out, 90 percent of the residents having food insecurity, with the potential of permanent damage to them.  Does this bring you any closer to believing that perhaps the Arab community is correct in calling for a ceasefire and that is not sustainable if you don’t see some measure of response from Israel in your meetings to reducing the level of the targeting and the attacks to a more proportionate level or just a permanent ceasefire?

And if I may, Prime Minister Al Thani, you discussed the Red Sea and the complication there.  Do you believe that, at this point, with a very strong warning that was issued by the State Department earlier this week and signed on by a number of other countries, do you believe that it is time for military action by a coalition?  Or do you think that that would contribute to what you fear, what everyone fears would be an expansion of hostilities in the region?  Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea, thank you.  With regard to Secretary Austin, I wasn’t aware of his medical issue.  In fact, I talked to Lloyd last weekend before this incident, and I know that he’s put out a statement addressing it.  What I can say is this.  It has been and it remains one of the great privileges of my career, over 30 years now working in in government, to serve alongside Lloyd Austin.  He is an extraordinary leader for this country, in uniform and now out of uniform.  And it’s been a highlight of my service to be able to serve alongside him, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing him fully recovered and working side by side in the year ahead.

QUESTION:  But what – what is your policy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I think he put out a statement addressing this.  I’ll let that statement speak for itself.

QUESTION:  What would your policy be about yourself?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’m not going to – I won’t get into hypotheticals on that, Andrea.

Let me say this in response to the second part of your question.  As I said earlier, it is absolutely imperative that more be done, that Israel do more to protect civilians and, with others, enable more humanitarian assistance to get where it’s needed and to whom it’s needed, and that will be one focus of my conversations when I get to Israel.

The dilemma that’s been posed from day one, since October 7th, the dilemma that any country would face is, having been the victim of one of the most horrible attacks that I’ve been aware of, that I’ve ever witnessed in my 30 years – how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  And any country faced with what Israel had to face on October 7th would want to do just that: make sure it could not happen again.  And that means dealing with the threat that Hamas continues to pose.  And as Hamas leaders themselves have made clear, they would, if given the opportunity, do this October 7th again and again and again, and that is not tolerable for any country, Israel or anyone else.

But as we’ve made clear also from day one, it’s imperative that in dealing with this very, very difficult challenge, that it do so in a way that puts a premium on protecting civilians and on making sure that people get the assistance they need.  And as operations phase down, that will certainly make it easier to ensure that civilians are not harmed, and it will also make – ensure that more assistance can get to people who need it.  But I think it’s also very, very important that, to the extent operations continue, they be designed around protecting civilians and around getting humanitarian assistance to people need it, not the other way around.  And that will also be part of our conversations this week.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Of course, first of all, Qatar position is very clear on protecting the freedom of navigation, and what’s happening in the escalation in the Red Sea is something unacceptable that we don’t want to see in our country.  And as I have mentioned that, this is – unfortunately is one of the effects of what’s happening right now in Gaza, and we believe that it’s more important now to focus our efforts to reach an end and reach a resolution to the situation over there.

Military action and your – regarding your question, Andrea, I think it’s – from Qatar policy perspective, we never see a military action as a resolution.  Of course, we see the events and what’s occurring over there in the Red Sea, but our biggest worry is to have a consequences all the time that will keep us in a loop that will never end it and will create a real tension in the entire region.  So we hope that we see a stop to what’s happening to the civilian ships as soon as possible through our diplomatic means. That would be the best way possible.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)  John Hudson, Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary, President Biden said proposals to condition aid to Israel were a worthwhile thought in November, when the death toll in Gaza was 12,000. Now the estimated death toll is almost double that, and the administration has rushed weapons to Israel in that time.  Is conditioning military support to Israel a worthwhile thought, or is it the antithesis of what the administration would ever consider?

Prime Minister Al Thani, when it comes to planning for post-war Gaza, what are Qatar’s conditions for playing a role on reconstruction?  The U.S. is deeply involved in post-war planning.  Does it have the requisite moral authority in the eyes of the Arab world?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  John, any military assistance we provide to any country, including Israel, comes with requirements, including that weapons be used in accordance with international humanitarian law, the laws of war.  And that’s something that we look at very carefully on an ongoing basis.  And we will want to make sure, in this case as in any other case, that any weapons that we provide are used accordingly.  That’s something that we take very, very seriously, and we’ll continue to do so.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Regarding the post-war in Gaza, we’ve been having these discussions thoroughly with the Secretary in this meeting but also in the previous meetings.  We always – sorry – we always see that the priority for us is, first of all, to end this war.  That’s – that will remain the priority.  And after ending this war, to find a resolution for the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, those are – cannot be separated from each other.  West Bank and Gaza should be dealt with as one unit.

As of support of the state of Qatar to the Palestinian people, this is a policy for the state of Qatar that will continue and will not be affected by the political situation, of course.  And what we really want to see, we want to see a lasting solution for the Palestinian people to provide them with their state at the end of the day.  That will be the only sustainable way that will preserve all of our effort and our investments for the long term.