Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Jerusalem

David Citadel Hotel

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening, everyone.  Ah, must be a slow night.  (Laughter.)  Good to see you all.

We had, as those of you who’ve been along with us all day know, a fairly busy and certainly very productive day in Jerusalem and Ramallah since arriving this morning.  I traveled here at the request of President Biden, who asked me to come to pursue four basic objectives.  First, to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.  Second, to start to work toward greater stability and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.  Third, to support urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza to benefit the Palestinian people.  And fourth, to continue to rebuild our relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.

Those objectives shaped all of the meetings that I held today with elected leaders on both sides, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, Defense Minister Gantz here in Jerusalem, and President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh in the West Bank.  They’ll drive my discussions this evening with Knesset opposition leader Lapid and tomorrow morning with President Rivlin.

Across the meetings that I’ve had so far, I’ve heard a shared recognition from all sides that steps need to be taken, work needs to be done, to address the underlying conditions that helped fuel this latest conflict.  The ceasefire creates space to begin to take those steps.  Attending to the urgent humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza and helping rebuild is a key starting point.  The United States is committed to rallying international support to that effort and doing our part.  That’s why we announced additional assistance for the Palestinian people today.

But we all know that is not enough.  As President Biden has said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely; to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity, and democracy; to be treated with dignity.  Earlier today, I had a chance to meet with two of the State Department’s locally employed staff: an Israeli whose family lives near the Gaza separation wall and a Palestinian who lives in Gaza.  Both of them recounted how the violence in recent weeks repeatedly forced them and their families to take cover.  Both feared they would be killed.  For too many innocent Israelis and Palestinians, lives lost in the conflict and loved ones suffering immeasurably as a result.

But the stories of those staff members remind us that the survivors on both sides also walk away scarred, none as much as children.  That’s another reason we have to break the cycle of violence.  Leaders on both sides will need to chart a better course, starting by making real improvements in the lives of people in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.  I’m convinced that if they do, they will find willing partners in both Israeli and Palestinian civil society.  That’s one of the messages I took away from a meeting earlier today with Palestinian civil society leaders.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a chance to travel to Egypt and also to Jordan.  As you know, Egypt played a critical role in helping to broker the ceasefire, and Jordan has long been a voice for peace and stability in the region.  We’re grateful for their continued engagement, and I look forward to the meetings there tomorrow.

But with that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with Lara Jakes, New York Times.

QUESTION:  Good evening, Secretary Blinken.  Hello.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Where are you, Lara?  Oh, there you are.

QUESTION:  I think some of my colleagues will ask you some of the nitty-gritty questions of the day.  I wanted to kind of take a step back, if I could.  Reasserting America’s role in the world has been one of the themes of your foreign policy.  Can you describe how that took shape over the last three weeks in this part of the Middle East, where the United States had a very active role in promoting Israeli interests during the Trump administration but had shut down relations with Palestinian officials?  And so what struck you in what you heard today from both sides?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, a few things.  First, I think that the violence that we’ve seen in recent weeks is a reminder of the need to try to make genuine progress toward peacefully resolving the conflict that continues to divide Israelis and Palestinians.

In terms of U.S. reengagement, U.S. leadership, I think what you saw was President Biden leading, very determined, very intensive, but also behind-the-scenes diplomacy to do the first thing that needed to be done, which was to end the violence, to get the ceasefire.  And with a lot of hard work, with the efforts of others, including the Egyptians, we were able to do that.  But that was just the starting point for something that I just described.

It’s now I think incumbent on us to work with our partners here and work with others, as I said, to address the urgent needs in Gaza itself and the people in Gaza, to then try to build something more positive on that, and also to address some of the underlying causes that could, if not addressed, spark another cycle of violence.

So I think we found in working on this intensely, quietly but resolutely, that America’s words matter, America’s actions matter, and America’s engagement matters.  I’m glad that we were able to make – help make a difference in getting to the ceasefire.  And I hope and expect that we can continue to make a difference in moving beyond it in trying to build something more positive.  So that’s what I take away from at least the last couple of weeks.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Gili Cohen from KAN.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for that.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pretty vocal in his objection to the JCPOA.  Did those remarks encourage or deter the U.S. from returning to the JCPOA?  And speaking of the Iran deal, is it a matter of weeks before the U.S. will return to the agreement?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Let’s start with this.  The fact is the United States and Israel are absolutely united in the proposition that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.  We share exactly the same goal.  It’s no secret that we sometimes have our differences with regard to the best way to achieve that goal, and that’s what allies and partners do.  We work together, try to find the best way to achieve a common objective.  What we have done very, very resolutely, as we’ve tried to see whether a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA is possible, is that we have regularly before, during, and after all of our engagements – indirect engagements with the Iranians in Vienna – kept our partners here in Israel informed, as well as others who are concerned.  And that’s not going to stop.

Let me add this:  The JCPOA I think accomplished something very important, and that is it cut off all of Iran’s pathways to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon on short order.  And it pushed the so-called breakout time, the amount of time it would take Iran to develop that material for a nuclear weapon, to beyond a year.  It was the most heavily monitored and verified agreement in the history of arms control.  Our experts said that Iran was abiding by its commitments under the agreement.  So did international experts.  And as a result, the challenge that both the United States and Israel were focused on, the prospect of Iran getting to the point where it could have a – fissile material for a nuclear weapon or produce it on very short order, we took that off of the – off the field.  And I think that was an important development.

What have we seen since we pulled out of the agreement?  Well, Iran has stopped abiding by some of the critical constraints in the agreement, and as a result, it is far closer today to the ability to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon on short order than it was even before the deal was reached, and certainly during the pendency of the deal itself.  And so I think that only underscores the importance and, indeed, urgency in seeing if we can get Iran back into compliance with the agreement, to put Iran back in the nuclear box that the deal constructed.  The alternative is an Iran that is getting closer and closer – if it continues to do what it’s doing, in spinning more and more sophisticated centrifuges and building up stockpiles of enriched uranium – getting closer and closer to having a very, very short breakout time, which is in – not in our interest, not in Israel’s interest, not in anyone’s interest.

So that’s why we’re working to see if we can get back into mutual compliance.  We’ve said all along that that would be a first step, that we also would seek to try to make the agreement longer and stronger, and also to deal with other issues and other challenges posed by Iran, to include its support for terrorism, its support for destabilizing proxy groups in countries throughout the region, its proliferation.  All of these things we’re determined to engage, but the first thing we’re trying to achieve is to, as I said, put the nuclear problem back into the box that we constructed and that was strong, solid, and doing what we needed to do.

Now, we’re engaged or about to engage in I think the fifth round of discussions in Vienna, and we still don’t know the answer to the most important question, which is whether Iran is actually willing and able to make the decisions it needs to make to come back into full compliance.  The jury is still out, and we will see whether or not Iran makes that decision.

MR PRICE:  Nick Wadhams.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Mr. Secretary, a few of those nitty-gritty questions for you:  Did President Abbas say anything to you about reopening a Palestinian Authority representative office in the U.S.?  Can you give us a timeframe on when you would reopen the consulate and bring Michael Ratney here?

And then if I could just press you a little bit on the Iran issue, understanding everything you’ve laid out to us, did you offer any assurances to Prime Minister Netanyahu?  His comments to us essentially showed that he disagreed with everything you just said.  He thinks that the deal essentially legitimizes Iran getting a nuclear weapon.  So was there anything you asked of him or offered him on the JCPOA to try to reassure him?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  So on the question of an office in Washington, that did not come up today.  With regard to our consulate, we’re just beginning the process.  I can’t give you a timeline on how long that will take.  But I can tell you that it’s, I think, important to have that platform to be able to more effectively engage not just the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinians from different walks of life, the NGO community, the business community, and others.  And so we look forward to doing that, but I can’t put a timeline on it.

And coming back to Iran, no, I think the most important thing when it comes to this is what we committed to do from day one of this administration.  We said all along that if there was an opportunity, we would seek to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA, but we also said that from day one, we would be keeping our closest allies and closest partners fully and contemporaneously informed of what we were doing and where we were going.  And that’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll continue to do.  That is how you keep faith with your partners and allies on something that, of course, is of great consequence to Israel.  We understand that.

And again, we have the same objective, and let’s see where things go in the next few weeks.  But I can again tell you that we are fully, fully engaged with our partners here in at least making sure that they’re fully informed of what we’re doing.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Hikmet Yosef from PalSawa.

QUESTION:  (In Arabic.)

MR PRICE:  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good afternoon.

(In Arabic.)

INTERPRETER:  Okay.  So his question was:  “The U.S. administration said that it’s going to do the reconstruction of Gaza through the United Nations.  Is this considered an implicit, direct, or indirect recognition of Hamas that is taking over – that is the taken-over authority in Gaza?  And – or is there a plan for Washington to deal with Hamas directly or indirectly?”

And he’s asking also:  “Is the negotiation – will be resumed between the PA and Israel after the ceasefire?”  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much for your question.  Look, if we do this right, reconstruction and then – and relief for the people of Gaza, far from empowering Hamas, I think has the potential to undermine it.  I say that because Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, on misery, on desperation, on a lack of opportunity.  In fact, it’s a movement that has thrived on a vacuum of opportunity.  And what reconstruction and relief need to do is not just answer the immediate needs – and those needs are significant and they’re urgent, whether it’s water, whether it’s sanitation, whether it’s electricity – but they need to offer a genuine prospect for opportunity, for progress, for material improvement in people’s lives.  And our goal is to give the Palestinian people, including those in Gaza, a renewed sense of confidence, of optimism, of real opportunity.

And if we succeed – and by the way, it’s not just us, it’s not just the UN.  It’s the Palestinian Authority that needs to be fully engaged, Israel needs to fully engage, other partners need to fully engage.  But in my judgment, at least, if we’re able to do that all together, then Hamas’s foothold in Gaza will slip, and we know that and I think that Hamas knows that.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take one final question from Andrea Mitchell.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  Did you get any commitments from Prime Minister Netanyahu to not evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods and to work with the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinians in order to avoid any spark that could break the ceasefire?  And did you get any assurances from the Palestinian Authority today that they could have any influence over Gaza?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Andrea.  So first, as – let me take a step back for a minute, because we’re focused right now on responding to, as I said, the urgent needs that exist in Gaza on a humanitarian basis, the urgent needs for rebuilding and reconstruction, and then looking to see actions on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians that will take down tension, and try to remove or minimize some of the potential catalysts for a renewed cycle of violence, and, building on that, try to – in very practical and material ways, start to improve people’s lives and add a real sense of dignity and hope.

If that happens – and that will take some time – that may, I think, produce a better environment in which ultimately there’s a possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course, to give the Palestinians the state that they’re entitled to.

I say all that because any steps that either side takes that either risk sparking violence or – over time – and ultimately undermine the prospect for returning to the pursuit of two states, we oppose.  And that includes settlement activity, it includes demolitions, it includes evictions, it includes incitement to violence, it includes payment to terrorists.  All of those things would, I think, on the one hand potentially be catalysts for renewed tension and potentially violence, and certainly undermine the prospects of achieving two states.  And that’s something that we’ve been very clear about in our conversations with Israelis and Palestinians alike.

QUESTION:  But did you get any commitment today?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’ll let the – I’ll let our partners speak for themselves.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, everybody.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

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    A federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Maryland, returned an indictment today charging an Upper Marlboro tax return preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur.
    [Read More…]
  • On the Anniversary of the Day of Portugal, Camões, and Portuguese Communities
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Seven Charged in Connection with a $2.1 Million Money Laundering Scheme that Involved Money from the Paycheck Protection Program
    In Crime News
    Seven individuals were charged in an indictment in the District of South Carolina with laundering over $750,000 of fraudulently obtained funds, including over $390,000 obtained from a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The seven individuals used a variety of methods to launder the money, including laundering the money through a casino. The indictment also identifies over $2.1 million in funds from twelve different bank accounts allegedly associated with the fraud scheme as subject to forfeiture which agents seized.
    [Read More…]
  • Executions Scheduled for Two Federal Inmates
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement between the United States and Uzbekistan on the Successful Conclusion of 2020 Annual Bilateral Consultations and Commencement of a Strategic Partnership Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the Occasion of a Trilateral Discussion among Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the United States
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Cybersecurity: Clarity of Leadership Urgently Needed to Fully Implement the National Strategy
    In U.S GAO News
    Federal entities have a variety of roles and responsibilities for supporting efforts to enhance the cybersecurity of the nation. Among other things, 23 federal entities have roles and responsibilities for developing policies, monitoring critical infrastructure protection efforts, sharing information to enhance cybersecurity across the nation, responding to cyber incidents, investigating cyberattacks, and conducting cybersecurity-related research. To fulfill their roles and responsibilities, federal entities identified activities undertaken in support of the nation's cybersecurity. For example, National Security Council (NSC) staff, on behalf of the President, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, have developed policies, strategies, standards, and plans to guide cybersecurity efforts. The Department of Homeland Security has helped secure the nation's critical infrastructure through developing security policy and coordinating security initiatives, among other efforts. Other agencies have established initiatives to gather intelligence and share actual or possible cyberattack information. Multiple agencies have mechanisms in place to assist in responding to cyberattacks, and law enforcement components, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are responsible for investigating them. The White House's September 2018 National Cyber Strategy and the NSC's accompanying June 2019 Implementation Plan detail the executive branch's approach to managing the nation's cybersecurity. When evaluated together, these documents addressed several of the desirable characteristics of national strategies, but lacked certain key elements for addressing others. National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan are Missing Desirable Characteristics of a National Strategy Characteristic Cyber Strategy and Plan Coverage of Issue Purpose, scope, and methodology Addressed Organizational roles, responsibilities, and coordination Addressed Integration and implementation Addressed Problem definition and risk assessment Did not fully address Goals, subordinate objectives, activities, and performance measures Did not fully address Resources, investments, and risk management Did not fully address Source: GAO analysis of 2018 National Cyber Strategy and 2019 Implementation Plan . | GAO-20-629 For example, the Implementation Plan details 191 activities that federal entities are to undertake to execute the priority actions outlined in the National Cyber Strategy. These activities are assigned a level, or tier, based on the coordination efforts required to execute the activity and the extent to which NSC staff is expected to be involved. Thirty-five of these activities are designated as the highest level (tier 1), and are coordinated by a functional entity within the NSC . Ten entities are assigned to lead or co-lead these critical activities while also tasked to lead or co-lead lower tier activities. Leadership Roles for Federal Entities Assigned as Leads or Co-Leads for National Cyber Strategy Implementation Plan Activities Entity Tier 1 Activities Tier 2 Activities Tier 3 Activities National Security Council 15 7 3 Department of Homeland Security 14 19 15 Office of Management and Budget 7 6 5 Department of Commerce 5 9 35 Department of State 2 5 11 Department of Defense 1 6 17 Department of Justice 1 10 5 Department of Transportation 1 0 5 Executive Office of the President 1 0 0 General Services Administration 1 2 1 Source: GAO analysis of 2018 National Cyber Strategy and 2019 Implementation Plan . | GAO-20-629 Although the Implementation Plan defined the entities responsible for leading each of the activities; it did not include goals and timelines for 46 of the activities or identify the resources needed to execute 160 activities. Additionally, discussion of risk in the National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan was not based on an analysis of threats and vulnerabilities. Further, the documents did not specify a process for monitoring agency progress in executing Implementation Plan activities. Instead, NSC staff stated that they performed periodic check-ins with responsible entities, but did not provide an explanation or definition of specific level of NSC staff involvement for each of the three tier designations. Without a consistent approach to engaging with responsible entities and a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to implement all 191 activities, the NSC will face challenges in ensuring that the National Cyber Strategy is efficiently executed. GAO and others have reported on the urgency and necessity of clearly defining a central leadership role in order to coordinate the government's efforts to overcome the nation's cyber-related threats and challenges. The White House identified the NSC staff as responsible for coordinating the implementation of the National Cyber Strategy . However, in light of the elimination of the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator position in May 2018, it remains unclear which official ultimately maintains responsibility for not only coordinating execution of the Implementation Plan , but also holding federal agencies accountable once activities are implemented. NSC staff stated responsibility for duties previously attributed to the White House Cyber Coordinator were passed to the senior director of NSC's Cyber directorate; however, the staff did not provide a description of what those responsibilities include. NSC staff also stated that federal entities are ultimately responsible for determining the status of the activities that they lead or support and for communicating implementation status to relevant NSC staff. However, without a clear central leader to coordinate activities, as well as a process for monitoring performance of the Implementation Plan activities, the White House cannot ensure that entities are effectively executing their assigned activities intended to support the nation's cybersecurity strategy and ultimately overcome this urgent challenge. Increasingly sophisticated cyber threats have underscored the need to manage and bolster the cybersecurity of key government systems and the nation's cybersecurity. The risks to these systems are increasing as security threats evolve and become more sophisticated. GAO first designated information security as a government-wide high-risk area in 1997. This was expanded to include protecting cyber critical infrastructure in 2003 and protecting the privacy of personally identifiable information in 2015. In 2018, GAO noted that the need to establish a national cybersecurity strategy with effective oversight was a major challenge facing the federal government. GAO was requested to review efforts to protect the nation's cyber critical infrastructure. The objectives of this report were to (1) describe roles and responsibilities of federal entities tasked with supporting national cybersecurity, and (2) determine the extent to which the executive branch has developed a national strategy and a plan to manage its implementation. To do so, GAO identified 23 federal entities responsible for enhancing the nation's cybersecurity. Specifically, GAO selected 13 federal agencies based on their specialized or support functions regarding critical infrastructure security and resilience, and 10 additional entities based on analysis of its prior reviews of national cybersecurity, relevant executive policy, and national strategy documents. GAO also analyzed the National Cyber Strategy and Implementation Plan to determine if they aligned with the desirable characteristics of a national strategy. GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration, that Congress should consider legislation to designate a leadership position in the White House with the commensurate authority to implement and encourage action in support of the nation's cybersecurity. GAO is also making one recommendation to the National Security Council to work with relevant federal entities to update cybersecurity strategy documents to include goals, performance measures, and resource information, among other things. The National Security Council neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or marinosn@gao.gov.
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  • North Carolina Return Preparer Pleads Guilty in Tax Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Rocky Mount, North Carolina, tax return preparer pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the United States, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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  • Former Union President Sentenced for Violent Extortion
    In Crime News
    The former president of Iron Workers Local 395 was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for his role in organizing a brutal assault on a group of non-union ironworkers in Dyer, Indiana.
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  • Remarks to the Community of Democracies 20th Anniversary Virtual Conference
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Stephen Biegun, Deputy [Read More…]
  • On the Occasion of World Refugee Day
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Fort Bend County home health owner charged with copying and pasting doctor signatures
    In Justice News
    A 60-year-old Richmond [Read More…]
  • Operators of California Charity Scam Sentenced to Prison for Mail Fraud Conspiracy and Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    Geraldine Hill and Clayton Hill, a California couple who operated a charity that purported to provide goods to the needy, were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax evasion. Geraldine Hill was sentenced to 15 months in in prison, and Clayton Hill was sentenced to 9 months in prison, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. for the Southern District of California.
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  • Russia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Do not travel to Russia [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Announces Joint Final Rule Regarding Equal Treatment of Faith-Based Organizations in Department-Supported Social Service Programs
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced a joint final rule with eight other Agencies — the Agency for International Development and the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Veterans Affairs — to implement President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13831, on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (May 3, 2018).  This rule ensures that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in DOJ-supported programs, and it clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities. 
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  • ISIS Militants Charged With Deaths Of Americans In Syria
    In Crime News
    Two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization, are expected to arrive in the United States today in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.
    [Read More…]