Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press

Secretary Antony J. Blinken is greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Michael Ratney in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 8, 2024. (Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy)

REMARKS TO THE PRESS
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
JANUARY 8, 2024

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  We’ve just finished our third day of a trip that thus far has taken us from Türkiye to Greece to Jordan to Qatar to the United Arab Emirates to here in Saudi Arabia.  Everywhere I went, I found leaders who are determined to prevent the conflict that we’re facing now from spreading, doing everything possible to deter escalation, to prevent a widening of the conflict.  We also talked about the future for this region, and I think there’s broad agreement on a few basic objectives: first, that Israel and Israelis should be able to live in peace and security, free from the fear of terrorist attacks or aggression from any of their neighbors; second, that the West Bank and Gaza should be united under Palestinian-led governance; third, the future of the region needs to be one of integration, not division and not conflict; and fourth, for that to happen, we need to see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Now, no one I talked to thinks any of this will be easy.  All recognize the hurdles, and no one thinks that anything will happen overnight.  But we agreed to work together and to coordinate our efforts to help Gaza stabilize and recover, to chart a political path forward for the Palestinians, and to work toward long-term peace, security, and stability in the region as a whole.

I also found across the board that the countries we visited, the leaders we spend time with, are prepared to make the necessary commitments, to make the hard decisions to advance all of these objectives, to advance this vision for the region.

We’re heading now to Israel, where I’ll have an opportunity to share with Israeli leaders everything I’ve heard thus far on this trip, and also to talk to them about the future direction of their military campaign in Gaza.  I will press on the absolute imperative to do more to protect civilians and to do more to make sure that humanitarian assistance is getting into the hands of those who need it.  We’ll also, of course, focus on our relentless efforts to bring back the hostages – Americans, Israelis, and others.  And we’ll talk about how we see the future for the region and for Israel.  And I’m convinced that there is a future path that can actually bring lasting peace and security for Israel, that can assure that October 7th never happens again, and that can bring the region together, that can meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and do it in a way that makes this a region focused on the future, not on the challenges of the past.

With that, I’m happy to take a couple questions.

MR MILLER:  Iain.

QUESTION:  Secretary, your trip is partly about trying to prevent a wider war, but Israel has now killed two Hizballah leaders within a week.  What does that say about U.S. leverage over Israel, and doesn’t that risk a second front?

And secondly, Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani yesterday said military strikes against the Houthis were not the best option and that he preferred diplomacy since the military strikes would raise regional tensions.  What message are you giving to Arab partners in the region about U.S. and coalition efforts and intentions towards potential military strikes in Yemen?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well first, Iain, with regard to Lebanon, it’s clearly not in the interest of anyone – Israel, Lebanon, Hizballah for that matter – to see this escalate and to see an actual conflict.  And the Israelis have been very clear with us that they want to find a diplomatic way forward, a diplomatic way forward that creates the kind of security that allows Israelis to return home – nearly 100,000 Israelis have been forced to leave their homes in northern Israel because of the threat coming from Hizballah and Lebanon – but also allows Lebanese to return to their homes in southern Lebanon.  And we’re working intensely on that effort, and doing so diplomatically.

Second, with regard to the Red Sea, the international community as a whole faces a challenge.  These attacks, consistent attacks by the Houthis on international shipping, are a threat to everyone.  We talked about this yesterday.  You’ve got about 15 percent of the world’s commerce every day going through that strait, going through the Red Sea.  And these attacks are having a real effect on the prices that people have to pay for food, for medicine, for energy.  Ships have to get diverted to other places, insurance rates go up, and the basic principle of freedom of navigation is what’s at stake.

So the international community has a real stake in upholding that principle.  As I said, we’ve had 40 countries come together to make clear that what the Houthis are doing has to stop.  And we have other countries that have made clear that if it continues, there have to be consequences.

So our strong view, our strong preference, is that the Houthis get the message that they’re receiving from countries around the world that this needs to stop.  And that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION:  Hi, Secretary Blinken.  Thanks.  Before the October 7th attacks, you and other aides to President Biden were trying to pursue the idea of Saudi-Israel normalization, and that’s become – it seems that’s become much more difficult in light of the attacks, given the animus on different sides now.  But you still want to pursue that, because it might be one way for – to get Israel to recognize the aspirations of the Palestinians.  What did the crown – what did Crown Prince Mohammed tell you today about the prospects for normalization?  What’s – what conditions would he – is he looking for to reach normalization?  And what do you think the U.S. and Israel have to put forward to reach that, to reach an agreement?

Secondly, what did Crown Prince Mohammed and MBZ today tell you about what they’re willing to do in a post-war state in Gaza?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So the second part of the question first.  What I’ve found on virtually every stop was a willingness of all of the countries involved to do important things to help Gaza stabilize and revitalize.  And I heard that in every place.  And one of the things that we’re going to be working on together is just what that would require, and just what countries specifically are prepared to do.  But that was a pretty constant theme.

With regard to integration, to normalization, yes, we talked about that actually on every stop, including of course here in Saudi Arabia.  And I can tell you this:  There’s a clear interest here in pursuing that; there’s a clear interest in the region in pursuing that.  But it will require that the conflict end in Gaza, and it will also clearly require that there be a practical pathway to a Palestinian state.  This is what I heard from everyone we talked to about it.  But this interest is there, it’s real, and it could be transformative.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.