The Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening, everyone. We just finished meetings here in Baghdad. We started with a briefing from Ambassador Romanowski and our entire team at the embassy about the security situation. As you know, there have been a series of attacks conducted by militia directed at our personnel both in Iraq as well as in Syria. Job number one for me is to ensure the security of our people, and so I got an update on everything we’re doing to make sure that our personnel are safe and secure.
In addition, I had a good, productive, candid meeting with Prime Minister al-Sudani, and there were really two areas of focus for me in that meeting. The first was to reaffirm our commitment to our partnership with Iraq. We’ve made tremendous progress with Iraq in recent years, particularly working with the Iraqi Government on everything from economic reform to energy independence to helping to strengthen its institutions, building respect for human rights, and not only the security aspect of the relationship – all of these different aspects. We call that 360 degrees, and we’re committed to it. So we did a – we had a discussion about that and the progress we’ve made.
At the same time, it was very important to send a very clear message to anyone who might seek to take advantage of the conflict in Gaza to threaten our personnel here or anywhere else in the region: Don’t do it. I made very clear that the attacks, the threats coming from the militia that are aligned with Iran are totally unacceptable and we will take every necessary step to protect our people. We’re not looking for conflict with Iran – we’ve made that very clear – but we’ll do what’s necessary to protect our personnel, be they military or civilian.
Prime Minister al-Sudani has made very clear his condemnation of attacks against – directed at our people, threats at our people, and his determination to do what’s necessary to make sure that that doesn’t happen.
So we had a good, as I said, candid, important conversation. More broadly, we’re working very hard to make sure that the conflict in Gaza does not escalate, does not spread to other places – whether it’s here, whether it’s elsewhere in the region. This is the very vital and urgent work of American diplomacy, and that’s what we’ve been engaged in as well throughout this trip.
Happy to take a few questions.
MR MILLER: Anthony.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary, thanks for taking the questions. Yesterday, President Joe Biden when asked whether he was optimistic, he felt like progress was being made towards getting Israel to agree to humanitarian pauses in strikes, he gave a thumbs up and said yes. Based on your conversations with Israel on Friday and with Arab leaders yesterday and today, do you share the President’s optimism? Why hasn’t a deal been agreed to yet and how do you get around Israel’s apparent categorical rejection of any kind of a deal like this, a deal that people – many people seem to think is a modest step?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, as we said following my conversations with the prime minister and with the Israeli Government, this is a process. Israel has raised important questions about how humanitarian pauses would work. We’ve got to answer those questions. We’re working on exactly that. In fact, we agreed that our teams would get together and they’re doing just that, including today, to work through the specifics and the practicalities of these pauses.
Second, it’s important that a pause advance a number of things. One of them is hostages. We are intensely focused – the United States, Israel, every other country that has one of its citizens being held hostage by Hamas – to bring them home. And now it’s important that as we’re engaged in pursuing a humanitarian pause that this can be something that advances the prospect of getting the hostages back, and also advance other things that we’re committed to doing, as is the Government of Israel and other partners in the region – especially getting more humanitarian assistance to people who need it in Gaza.
I’ll remind you, when we had conversations three weeks ago about starting humanitarian assistance, it was a process to actually get that moving. But we had a commitment to do that. It took some days to get the process in place. Since then we’ve had trucks moving; we have about a hundred trucks a day going in. That’s good, but it’s grossly insufficient. So now we’re working on raising that significantly so that more aid in a sustained way gets in to Palestinians who need it. There again, a humanitarian pause can also help advance that and create an environment in which we can do as much as possible for people who so desperately need the assistance.
QUESTION: And if I may, yesterday the Arab leaders said nothing short of a total ceasefire would be acceptable. Did you make any progress in convincing them that a humanitarian pause would be a reasonable compromise?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think everyone would welcome humanitarian pauses. There’s no doubt about that. There are obviously different views, including on the question of a ceasefire. But there’s no doubt from my conversations with all of our colleagues who were in Amman yesterday that everyone would welcome a humanitarian pause because, again, it could advance things that we’re all trying to accomplish, including getting hostages back, including getting a lot more assistance into Gaza, including getting people out of Gaza – citizens from other countries who seek to leave.
We’ve had important progress there in recent days; there are also real complications that come along with it. We continue to work through them. But in each of these areas a humanitarian pause or pauses could make a positive difference.
MR MILLER: Michael.
QUESTION: Thanks very much for taking my question. Michael Birnbaum from The Washington Post. A question about each of your visits today. Here in Iraq, I mean, what kind of steps did you talk about with the Iraqi prime minister, specific steps that they can take as a government to try to reduce the militia attacks and attempted attacks on U.S. forces here? And looking back at Ramallah, you’ve said that your – you have a view for the Palestinian Authority to have a potential governance role in Gaza. I wanted to ask what President Abbas’s view was that – was of that today, and if he’s in favor. Why do you think that’s a great idea given the generally low view of the Palestinian Authority among Palestinians?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first with regard to Iraq, Prime Minister Sudani has spoken out clearly. In fact, he made an important statement about a week ago, October 23rd, condemning these attacks and making clear the imperative that they stop. And in addition he is working with his own security forces and others to take the necessary action to deal with these attacks and to seek to prevent them. So we talked about that. I can’t get into specifics. But this is a matter of Iraqi sovereignty. No country wants to have militia groups engaged in violent activity that’s clearly against the interests of Iraq and its own sovereignty as well as against our interests. So I think we have a shared purpose and commitment in trying to make sure that these attacks don’t happen.
And we also share the interest – and an interest that’s shared with virtually everyone in the region – to make sure that the conflict in Gaza doesn’t spread to other places, whether it’s here or elsewhere in the region. So everyone is looking to take the necessary steps, use their authority, use their influence to try to make sure that this stops and doesn’t happen.
With regard to the visit to Ramallah and the Palestinian Authority, look, we’re – they and we are very focused on the day of, even as we need to be thinking about the day after. And I think what’s clear is that with regard to the day after, with regard to the future of Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian views, Palestinian voices, Palestinian aspirations need to be at the center of that. And that’s what we focused on. The PA is playing a very important role right now in the West Bank in trying to keep stability there. That’s hugely important because no one wants another front in the West Bank or anywhere else. And they’re really stepping up under very difficult conditions to do the necessary work.
But if you project forward into the future, what we all agree is that in defining that future and shaping that future for Gaza, for the West Bank, and ultimately for a Palestinian state, Palestinian voices have to be at the center of that. The Palestinian Authority is the representative of those voices, so it’s important that it play a leading role.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.