PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via translation) I am pleased to welcome my colleague His Excellency Mr. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America, to Doha.
We meet today under critical and unfortunate circumstances, with the continuing escalations occuring in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of Gaza and Israel. We are all following these developments with great sadness and concern.
My colleague and I engaged in frank and in-depth discussions on the matter, exploring both political and humanitarian dimensions of this crisis.
During our discussion, I reiterated Qatar’s firm position in condemning all forms of targeting civilians. I would like to stress that the killing of innocent civilians, especially children and women, and the practice of collective punishment policies, are unacceptable under any circumstance. These condemnations should be directed at all parties concerned on an equal basis.
From the very first day of the outbreak of escalation of the confrontation, Qatar has sought to de-escalate the situation towards, achieve a complete cessation of hostilities, stop the bloodshed, and spare the region from the risk of slipping into an expansion of violence. The people of this region are exhausted by ongoing wars and conflicts, and suffer the consequences of such events.
Qatar’s diplomatic priorities are to achieve an immediate ceasefire, protect civilians, ensure the release of prisoners, and work towards limiting the expansion of violence and the cycle of conflict in the region, which will inevitably result in serious consequences.
We also exchanged views on ways to open humanitarian corridors to ensure access of humanitarian relief and assistance to our Palestinian brothers who are trapped by the constant bombardments, especially in light of the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip. In this regard, we note the tragic situation that we are witnessing in Gaza, including the shortages of basic materials and power outages due to the shelling of the Strip.
I am certain that we are all aware we are facing a difficult reality and a stage that requires concerted efforts and endeavors. Therefore, we stress the need to strengthen our efforts with fellow allies and partners, especially the United States of America, in order to calm the situation and spare civilians the consequences of such confrontations.
We are convinced that the only way to reach a peaceful and immediate solution to this crisis is to keep all channels of communication open with all concerned parties, and that solving this crisis requires continuous and intensive cooperation. We also appreciate all ongoing regional, international and UN efforts towards de-escalating the crisis.
The State of Qatar firmly believes in the importance of mediation and dialogue, and considers this an integral part of our foreign policy.
The State of Qatar has always sought to keep channels of communication open with various parties in various arenas of conflict, which has contributed to consolidating Qatar’s international position as a reliable partner in peacemaking.
We must stress here that Qatar’s commitment to its role as a partner in peacemaking and as a mediator in resolving disputes should not be exploited with accusations that aim to harm the reputation of my country, which have been proven to be false reflecting the bad faith of their distributors.
We also stress that the absence of a just solution to the Palestinian issue will always accompany the absence of peace in this region. Accordingly, the international community should strive towards achieving a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue, within the framework of the Arab initiative, which guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Palestinian brothers obtain their legitimate rights once and for all.
We look forward to continuing to work with our US partners in our efforts to de-escalate the situation in the Occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, and to strengthen the security and stability of the region. Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good evening. Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the Amir and to the prime minister, my friend Mohammed, for, as always, very productive discussions.
Qatar has been a very close partner to the United States on a broad range of issues that are crucial to both of our countries and to this region – from working together on evacuating Americans, Afghans, and others from Afghanistan; to cooperating very closely in responding to humanitarian emergencies, like the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and in Syria.
We’re meeting today at what is a difficult but also consequential time for the region in the wake of Hamas’s appalling attack that killed more than 1,300 Israelis, at least 27 American citizens, and people from more than 30 countries.
The United States and Qatar share the goal of preventing this conflict from spreading. We discussed in detail our efforts to prevent any actor – state or non-state – from creating a new front in this conflict. We’re also working intensively together to secure the release of hostages, including American citizens being held by Hamas in Gaza. I’m grateful for the urgency that Qatar is bringing to this effort.
I had an opportunity to meet yesterday with the families of some of those being held hostage by Hamas. Their anguish is profound. They’re desperate to bring their loved ones home, and we are working urgently on that effort. We’re doing that with Qatar, and we’re doing that with allies and partners across the region.
As Israel continues to respond to Hamas’s devastating attack, the United States will ensure that it has what it needs to defend its people. Secretary of Defense Austin was in Israel today doing just that, working closely with the Israelis to make sure that we’re providing them what they need and that we’ll be able to do that on an ongoing basis.
At the same time, we’re in constant communication with Israeli officials and with multilateral and international organizations – humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations agencies, including the ICRC, to get aid to civilians in Gaza. As I said yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel has the right – indeed, it has the obligation to defend its people and to try to ensure that Hamas can never repeat what it’s done. We continue to discuss with Israel the importance of taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians. We recognize that many Palestinian families in Gaza are suffering through no fault of their own, and that Palestinian civilians have lost their lives. We mourn the loss of every innocent life – Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as civilians of every faith and every nationality who’ve been killed.
Let’s not lose sight of why this is happening. Israel is conducting operations in Gaza because Hamas carried out terrorist attacks that killed – in the most horrific – way 1,300 of its people. Hamas terrorists slaughtered, raped, mutilated, tortured, burned innocent civilians – from babies to the elderly, men, women, boys, and girls.
Now, efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza are complicated by the fact that Hamas continues to use innocent civilians as human shields, and is reportedly blocking roads to prevent Palestinians from moving to southern Gaza, out of harm’s way. We know the humanitarian situation is urgent. We’re actively engaged with partners, including Qatar, to get aid to those who need it.
Your Excellency, thank you again for today’s very, very good discussions, and for all the work that our countries have done together. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.) A question from the journalists.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
(Via translation) First question to the Qatari prime minister. Media reports talk about an agreement that has been agreed to freeze around six billion dollars for Iran here in Qatar. A question to Mr. Blinken: Have you heard, you and the American administration, that the numbers of casualties in Gaza are more than 1,500? A third of these casualties and victims are children, according to reports, and according to the UNICEF. My question is clear to you: What will the United States do, being a democracy advocate in the world? What will you do in order not to kill another child in Gaza?
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via translation) Regarding the media reports about freezing Iranian funds in Qatar, the state of Qatar is always committed to any agreement, and every step must be done through consultations with other partners that fund – the money here in Qatar, is there. And Qatar will focus at the priorities of – need not do anything that will escalate the situation in the region.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you for the question. A few things. As I said just a moment ago – and I’ll repeat it – Israel has both the right and even the obligation to defend its people and to do everything it can to ensure that what happened last Saturday never happens again.
At the same time, the way Israel does this matters. The way any democracy must deal with such a situation matters. And to that end, we’ve discussed with the Israelis – urged the Israelis – to use every possible precaution to avoid harm to civilians.
It’s also important to remember the fundamental issue that makes this so complicated, as I said again a moment ago: Hamas uses civilians as human shields. It puts them in places where they will be in danger. It puts them in places where they’re used, in effect, to try to protect Hamas officials or their equipment and infrastructure. Civilians, of course, should not be the target of a military operation. They are not the target of Israeli operations. They are very deliberately the target of Hamas’s actions.
I mentioned as well that we’re very actively engaged with UN relief agencies, with the ICRC, with others to address the acute humanitarian needs of people in Gaza – to protect them from harm and make sure that they have the ability to get what they need. We need to ensure, for example, that there are safe areas in Gaza for civilians. We’re working through the details on that, and more to be said in the days ahead, but that’s a priority for us. We’re discussing this with the Israeli Government; we’re discussing it with others in the region.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Second question from Al Jazeera.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good evening, Your Excellency. My name’s Ahmed Al Jassim from Al Jazeera. My question pertains to the content of communication since the breakout of these facilities. We know the state of Qatar was keen to make contact with some countries – Iran, the United States, Jordan, France, and other countries. What is the content of these communications and what are you basing them on?
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: (Via interpreter) In this previous days, since the outbreak of this crisis, his highness the Amir has initiated contact and I have initiated contact with my counterparts. We have specifics, and at this stage we are trying to reduce the tension. And we hope that this war will come to a halt and the humanitarian corridors are secured so that humanitarian aid can reach the Gaza Strip, and also the civilian prisoners who are being taken from Israel, are working on making sure that they will be released.
The role of the state of Qatar focus is on finding solutions for this crisis and avoid the crisis spilling over to other fronts and countries. Our priorities focus on, first of all, stopping the war and making sure humanitarian aid is delivered and the prisoners are returned home.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Third question from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sheikh Mohammed, given the condemnation from the world on Hamas attack, is Qatar considering shutting down Hamas bureau? Are you prepared to ask the leadership to leave if your Western allies demand you to do so? And Mr. Secretary, have you asked Qatar to shut down the Hamas office?
And if I may, Mr. Secretary, yesterday and just now you said Israel has a right to defend itself, but you added that how it does that mattered, and you talked about a standard that democracies should strive for, even when it’s difficult to do so. Today, Israel ordered residents of Gaza City to leave and move south, something UN Palestinian envoy just called a crime against humanity. The translation wasn’t great, so the gentleman before me might have asked something similar, but let me push you a little bit more on this. How does that square – how does that order square with that standard you mentioned and also international law? Does the United States support this relocation? And since you had a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, did you give your blessing for this move? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s – thank you. Please.
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Well, regarding your question about Hamas political office in Doha, right now actually this office – actually since – this was started to be used as a way of communicating and bringing peace and calm into the region, not to instigate any war. And this is the purpose of that office. As long as we are keeping the communication open right now and focusing on putting an end for this conflict, and this is used to. That’s what the main – our main focus is this. Actually, now our key focus for us in the state of Qatar – I believe the United States sharing with us this objective – is how to put an end for this conflict, how to de-escalate, how to create a humanitarian corridor, and how to get the hostages back safe.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Humeyra, first – regarding the first part of your question, let me start by saying – and I’ve mentioned this before but I want to repeat it – I really thank Qatar for the work that they are doing to try to help secure the release of hostages. This is something that we deeply appreciate. I know that other countries do as well, and it’s something that we’re actively pursuing.
I’ve also been making it clear in all of my conversations throughout this trip that there can be no more business as usual with Hamas. Murdering babies, burning families to death, taking little children as hostages – these are an unconscionable act of brutality. Every country, in our judgment, needs to condemn these actions, needs to hold them accountable, and we will continue to make that clear.
When it comes to providing for civilians in Gaza, both ensuring that they can be out of harm’s way and that they can have access to the support that they need – the humanitarian assistance, the food and the medicine, the water – our focus now is on helping to create safe zones. And we’re doing that with the leading international organizations. We’re doing that engaged with Israel, and we’re working with other countries to that end. So that’s where our focus is. We think this is the best way to make sure that civilians who are caught in a crossfire of Hamas’s making can be safe and receive the assistance they need. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Final question from Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I know the situation in Israel is highly charged and very fluid. But are you worried about the medium- and long-term consequences of what’s unfolding in Gaza? Are you worried that Israel may be simply retaliating in a fury because of the horrendous nature of these attacks and might not have a medium- or long-term plan?
And secondly, I’m wondering how worried are you about a second front in this war? Iran and Hizballah have already made threats of opening this new front, if attacks on civilians or an Israeli blockade of Gaza continues. What would the U.S. response be if Hizballah ramps up its own attacks, for instance in response to a ground invasion?
And Sheikh Mohammed, the U.S. and Israel are both struggling with this tragic and fluid hostage situation that the Secretary was talking about and have looked for Qatar to help navigate it. Can you tell us about your engagements with Hamas? And are you optimistic about getting these people back alive, given reports that some of them may have already died in Israeli strikes on Gaza?
And secondly, there have been rising criticism and protests across the Arab world as Israel’s retaliation continues. What’s your view of how Israel is conducting its military response? And are you worried about the potential – are you also worried about the potential for medium- and long-term consequences of what’s happening? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Iain, thank you very much. The first part of the question: No country – no country – can tolerate having a terrorist group come in, slaughter its people in the most unconscionable ways, and live like that. What Israel is doing is not retaliation. What Israel is doing is defending the lives of its people and, as I said, trying to make sure that this cannot happen again. And I think any country faced with what Israel has suffered would likely do the same thing. Imagine if this had happened in the United States. So that’s what is happening.
Of course, you’re – it’s important to think about, as one might put it, the day after and where this goes, and I believe that is very much a part of Israel’s thinking as well as our own and the thinking of many other countries in the region, because one thing is for sure: We can’t go back to the status quo that allowed this to happen in the first place. So that has to be part of the thinking and it is. But the immediate focus, again, is on making sure that Israelis are protected, defended, and that, again, this can’t be allowed to be repeated.
With regard to a second front, as you put it, yes, this is something that we’re very focused on. We have been from day one. We want to make sure that no other country or entity try to take advantage of the situation. The President has been very, very clear about that. He said very starkly that any state or non-state actor considering that should not – don’t do it. And he’s backed that up in a number of ways, including, as I mentioned the other day and is known, deploying our largest aircraft carrier battle group to the Eastern Mediterranean. So that’s clearly designed to help ensure that anyone contemplating getting engaged doesn’t do it.
But beyond that, a big part of my own conversations here throughout this trip, including today and following up in the next couple of days, is working with other countries to make sure that they’re using their own contacts, their own influence, their own relationship to make that case that no one else should be taking this moment – choose to create more trouble in some other place.
I should mention as well that earlier today I had a very good conversation with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. And among other things, the Palestinian Authority is acting effectively to try to ensure that there’s security and stability in the West Bank, something that is very much appreciated. And they are working, as they’ve done in the past, with Israel to that effect. So in each of these areas, yes, this is a focus and it’s very important that this not expand to other places.
PRIME MINISTER AL THANI: Regarding your question about the progress on the hostages, actually it’s very early to judge, with the intensity of the war right now, how hopeful we are. But we have – we always hope that in order to get the – those hostages back. I think that the progress will be determined in the next few days hopefully, and we will see if there will be a positive prospect for that. But we are doing our best, our partners are doing their best in order to get them released safely.
On our views on the Israeli response in Gaza, we see – we have seen the amount of devastation that’s hit Gaza, which almost now half of it being destructed, and the number of people who’ve been killed throughout this operation is significant. And we believe that human being are human being everywhere, whether they are Israel or Palestinians – they have the same value. And this is deeply painful for all of us. And we would like to see international law applied here, and also the same standards that we apply to any war being applied in that.
We are trying our best to keeping the communication open in order to ensure that the humanitarian suffering doesn’t continue, and moving ahead with the humanitarian passages for the aid to be provided to them. We cannot deprive the people in Gaza from electricity, water, and medicine, and by all the means of life, we believe that the situation is very danger.
On the future prospect of this, the entire situation is very worrying for the entire region, and we believe, in the absence of any political horizon and hope for the Palestinians, that this issue will keep ongoing unfortunately. So that’s why we need to focus on how the day after will be dealt with and how we can create the political horizon and hope for the Palestinian people.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Now, we’ve come to the conclusion of this press conference. Thank you, Your Excellencies. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you.