Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability
Remarks to the Press
Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
St. Regis Hotel
May 26, 2021
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me start with a few words before taking some questions. And let me start, first of all, by congratulating the people of Jordan on the 75th anniversary of the kingdom's independence this week. I'd very much like to thank His Majesty King Abdullah for a very warm welcome today and a very good conversation. Our time in Jordan has been brief, but we had very broad-ranging and very substantive discussions at the palace today.
Jordan's recent contributions to help bring an end to the conflict in Israel demonstrate the kingdom's enduring role as a force for peace in the region, which is one of the reasons our relationship is so strong and so vital. His Majesty King Abdullah's leadership has been crucial on this run, as it has been in so many other areas where Jordan and the United States work together, including efforts to promote stability, economic opportunity, and justice across the region.
Jordan is more than a strategic partner to America. It's a friend. And friends stand by one another in challenging times, and I know this past period has been difficult on Jordan, as it has been on many of us. Both of our nations are now grappling with how we can grow our economies so that they can deliver real opportunities for our people. The fact that Jordan is doing this while continuing to show considerable generosity to people who came here fleeing violence and persecution is a reflection of the country's character and the big hearts of the Jordanian people.
As you know, President Biden asked me to make this trip, and I've kept him updated on our progress throughout. Securing the ceasefire was important, particularly because of the devastating toll violence took on families on both sides. But we see the ceasefire not as an end, but as a beginning, something to build on. Earlier today, I discussed how we can do this with President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry in Cairo. Egypt played a crucial role in brokering the ceasefire. It's already committed $500 million to the reconstruction effort in Gaza. We talked about that.
We also discussed Egypt's water needs and the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to issues around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that meet the legitimate needs of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. I commended Egypt for its leadership in urging Libya's legislature to keep elections on track for December, and we agreed on the need for all foreign forces to leave Libya. I also underscored the importance that President Biden places on human rights, and we agreed to engage in a constructive dialogue on these issues in Egypt.
Here today in Amman, my conversation with His Majesty touched on, again, a range of topics, including the urgent work we need to do together to meet humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Gaza while ensuring that the Palestinian people, not Hamas, benefit from this assistance. We discussed Jordan's essential role as a custodian of Muslim holy places and the importance of preserving the historic status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites. Jordan also plays a vital role in the West Bank. As the U.S. re-engages with the Palestinian people and reopens our consulate in Jerusalem, we'll have a lot of work to do together as well.
Our meetings today in Cairo and Amman, indeed this whole trip, reflect a fundamental reality. If we want to avoid a return to the harrowing violence of recent weeks, the countries of this region need to help and support one another. In the coming days, I'll be consulting broadly with Gulf countries and other partners to ensure we all contribute to recovery, stability, and the reduction of tensions.
We covered a fair bit of ground in a short trip, but I think one thing is very clear from the many conversations that I've had: The aspirations of people in every place we visit – Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, Jordanians – are remarkably similar. They want security for themselves and their loved ones. They want opportunity. They want greater equity. They want their leaders to deliver on their most fundamental needs. They want their rights to be respected. They want to live with dignity. These are the aspirations we all have, including Americans; indeed, they're universal. As people in this region make hard choices and do hard work to meet these goals, the United States will stand with them.
And with that, I'm happy to take some questions.
MR PRICE: We'll turn to Nike Ching.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening.
QUESTION: How are you?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: We understand you had a very busy schedule today, so thank you for talking to the press. On the human rights issue with regard to your meeting with – earlier today with President Sisi, are Americans or other detainees being released by Egypt soon? How did the discussion come about, or was there a discussion to prompt the release? And if I may, why not include a meeting with human rights defenders in Egypt in the original schedule? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. We had a lengthy discussion and exchange on human rights today in the meeting with President al-Sisi, which followed on President Biden's conversation with President al-Sisi some days ago. And a couple of things. First, with regard to Americans who are detained, first let me say that we remain deeply saddened by the needless death in custody of Mustafa Kassem. We've seen, I think, just in the last hours the Freedom Initiative and the good-faith work that it's doing to put a light on this important issue. I certainly raised this in my meeting today, and we'll continue to do so until Americans are reunited with their families.
More broadly, I think you know that President Biden takes the issue of human rights and our commitment to human rights very seriously. Indeed, he's asked us to put it at the heart of our foreign policy, and that's exactly what we're doing, and that was reflected in the conversations that we had today.
Oh, and I'm sorry, as to – with regard to meetings, look, we had unfortunately in Egypt, and also here in Amman, a very compressed time to work with. And I had an opportunity, as you know, when I was in Ramallah, to meet with civil society leaders, including some remarkable people who are working on human rights. I expect that in the future and on future trips, I'll have an opportunity to do more of that. We just had, unfortunately, in Cairo, a very, very tight time and only were able to do meetings with the government.
MR PRICE: Saleh Khawaldeh from Petra News Agency.
QUESTION: Thank you. Your Excellency, what's the next U.S. step for dealing with the conflict after the ceasefire, especially after the – President Biden's statement that the two-state solution is the only solution? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. The most urgent thing is humanitarian assistance for the people in Gaza, and particularly water, sanitation, electricity. We all have to come together to answer those immediate needs. Beyond that, reconstruction, rebuilding. And we had very good conversations over the course of the last couple of days with the Palestinian Authority, with Israel, with Egypt, and we were also in conversation with the United Nations about that effort, and we've already contributed significant sums. The Egyptians have contributed a very significant sum to the rebuilding process. So we will start to engage in that as well.
But more broadly than that, what we want to see and what we're working on is steps that all sides can take to reduce tensions and to build both some more trust and more hope going forward. And as that takes shape and as that hopefully moves forward, then I think we're – we can see the possibility of conditions developing in which it will be more possible to actually advance on the prospect of two states. But most urgently, again, is dealing with the immediate needs of people and then taking the necessary steps that I think can create better conditions in which we can try to move forward on two states.
MR PRICE: Tracy Wilkinson, please.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, thank you. You had very long meetings today with both President Sisi and King Abdullah. So I just wondered if you could give a little more detail about the kinds of steps you talked about them taking – Egypt, for example – beyond just reconstruction, but maintaining the ceasefire, keeping it in check. You mentioned the money that Egypt is going to contribute to reconstruction, but what other concrete steps are they prepared to take? For example, we've seen Israel has already relaxed some of the fishing restrictions on Gaza. What in that kind of vein might Egypt take? Jordan – King Abdullah for a long time has been very upset about restrictions that Israel is putting on access to al-Aqsa. Have you been able to reassure him or convey any reassurances from Israel that that will be less of an issue in the future?
And then finally, a human rights question to follow up on the human rights issue with President Sisi. This administration came in saying that human rights would be the core value of your foreign policy. Do you feel at all like President Sisi thinks that maybe now that you need him for Gaza, he is somehow inoculated against your demands for improving the human rights situations in Egypt? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great, thank you. There are a number of things that everyone involved is looking at, and I think will be doing to address the – some of the needs that I've described. And in particular when it comes to Gaza, there has to be – and we're working on this – a process to, in a very deliberate way, evaluate exactly what is required, what needs to be rebuilt, and then how do we most effectively go about doing that. And that is going to involve the United Nations, that's going to involve Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority.
And so we're working to put together the right process, the right mechanism to do that. And it really does start with assessing exactly what's needed and then how to address the need. And again, just to make the clear distinction, we have – and this is already moving – urgent humanitarian requirements, as I've said, particularly water, electricity, sanitation. That's already moving forward with different things moving into Gaza as we speak.
With regard to some of the flashpoints that contributed to the events of the last couple of weeks, we discussed those in some detail, to include the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount, to include the evictions of Palestinians who've been living in homes for decades, even generations, to include a number of other issues of incitement to violence, payments to prisoners who – or their families, who are engaged or been engaged in acts of terrorism. We cover all of those and more and shared our strongly held view that it's really incumbent on all sides to, again, avoid taking steps that could potentially reignite this cycle of violence, and longer-term would make the efforts to pursue a two-state solution even more challenging than they already are. So we certainly shared that.
And again, to come back to human rights, I think the fact that, as I said, we had a lengthy exchange on that with President al-Sisi as a reflection of the fact that it remains very much on the agenda with Egypt. And my own exchange followed one that President Biden had with President al-Sisi when they spoke on the phone.
MR PRICE: Final question from Priyanka Navani from Roya TV.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening.
QUESTION: Good evening. Thank you so much for being here, and welcome to Jordan. Yesterday during a press conference with Netanyahu, you reaffirmed President Biden's support for the idea that Palestinians and Israelis should both be able to leave – live, sorry – securely and safely. And actually you just underscored that very point, that Palestinians should be able to live safely, in your speech. But yesterday in your press conference, you said that the U.S. would be contributing more money to the Iron Dome, and then you said also that Palestinians – you would be expanding trade and investment in Palestine. So I'm just wondering: Why not commit to building infrastructure in Palestine that would keep Palestinians safe? Maslow's hierarchy would indicate that safety would be more of a priority than trade and investment.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. A few things there. As we announced yesterday, the United States is in the process of providing more than $360 million of assistance to the Palestinian people. That includes nearly $40 million in new assistance and that's directed primarily to support the humanitarian efforts in the West Bank and Gaza. The new assistance includes nearly 33 million for UNRWA in support of the West Bank and Gaza operations, an additional five and a half million, again, for humanitarian partners.
And all of this will support humanitarian organizations in the first instance to provide what's needed immediately, and that's the emergency shelter, food, relief items, health care, mental health, et cetera. But beyond that, working with Congress, the State Department, USAID intend to provide about 75 million in additional development and economic assistance over the next year that can support relief, recovery, and indeed, infrastructure in the West Bank as well as in Gaza. It will help advance private sector growth, which is really critical to bringing jobs to people who need them, as well as access to basic needs, services, like health care, like food. And there are additional programs as well. This is on top of about $250 million in economic, development, and security and humanitarian assistance that we announced before recent events, back in March and April.
And that's where you get to a total of about $360 million for the Palestinian people. All of this does go to building things – some concrete things, some programmatic things, all of which are designed to bring more hope, but also, concretely, more prospects, more opportunity for Palestinians. And some of that need will include infrastructure. This is critical because so much of this is, in the first instance, doing everything we can to improve in material ways the lives that people are living. That's where I think it starts. That's where you try to build hope as well as opportunity. And that, both in a literal sense when it comes to infrastructure and in a broader sense, is the foundation, I believe, upon which maybe we can build something even better.
So there's a lot that's already in the works. It's going to take some time to see the effect, to see the impact, but it is moving forward. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|