Below are excerpts from the Secretary Blinken’s Remarks on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza during a Press Availability with Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, May 18, 2021. The full text can be found here.
May 18, 2021
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
MODERATOR: Secretary of State of the United States and the minister for foreign affairs of Iceland.
FOREIGN MINISTER THORDARSON: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here. It has been my great pleasure to receive U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken here in Iceland. […] Over to you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: My friend, thank you so very much for your good words and warm welcome, […]
I do want to…just say a few words by way of brief update on our ongoing diplomatic efforts with Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. As I think you know, President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday and expressed our support for a ceasefire. He reiterated that Israel, like every country, has the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks and emphasized that Israel has to make every effort to protect innocent civilians. I likewise underscored the urgent need to bring an end to the violence in my own conversations yesterday with partners in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia, the European Union, and again this morning with my colleagues in Morocco and Bahrain. And I’ll do the same with other counterparts on the margins of the Arctic Council tonight and tomorrow.
I also had the opportunity to speak to our envoy in the region, Hady Amr, to get the latest update from him on his conversations with the parties, including most recently President Abbas. Our goal remains to bring the current cycle of violence to an end as quickly as possible and then bring the parties back to the work of building lasting stability, which the Palestinian and Israeli people – and people everywhere – deserve.
Having said that, let me turn to the conversations we had today and the partnership between the United States and Iceland. […]
MODERATOR: And now we move on to the Q&A. I ask you all to keep your questions concise. Bring up in English, and both the Secretary and the foreign minister will reply to you in English. Both will answer the question if needed.
The first to ask is Heimir Mar Petursson from Channel Two, Iceland.
QUESTION: [NATO question]
And secondly, isn’t it clear that no real process toward peace will be made until the Israeli Government stops illegal settlement by international law on the West Bank and lift the isolation of Gaza? And if the foreign minister of Iceland would also complete that.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: [NATO answer]
And with regard to the second part of the question, we continue to believe strongly that the best path forward for Israel, for the Palestinians, is through two states. That is the best way to guarantee Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and the best way, of course, to guarantee that the Palestinians have the state that they’re entitled to. And in that regard, any steps by any party – any unilateral steps by any party – that make the realization of two states more difficult and more challenging than it already is are steps that we would oppose.
QUESTION: What about the illegal settlement?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, I think we’ve been very clear on our views on settlements and, again, any actions that either side takes that make the prospect of two states even more challenging.
FOREIGN MINISTER THORDARSON: Yes, thank you. I don’t think there’s much to add when it comes to the cooperation, when it comes to the NATO and the defensive bilateral agreement, and it’s there for a reason and we know that, and the reason that we have – we can do more is that of course it’s our duty to protect the values we share.
When it comes to Israel and Palestine, this was something that was not originally on the agenda, but we decided to discuss it for obvious reason. We – Icelandic position has and is clear. We support the two-state solution and believe the Israeli occupation is illegal, and we strongly condemns all attack on civilian populations, and, of course, the great casualties and suffering, as we all know, including children. So – but of course the most important thing is now a ceasefire and I am – we will hope of course that that would be achieved, because it’s of utter importance.
MODERATOR: Next question comes to Humeyra Pamuk from Reuters.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, this administration has repeatedly said America is back, reflecting the desire to restore U.S. leadership in the world, and promised to revitalize multilateralism. And yet, in one of the first serious crisis it’s facing in the Middle East, the U.S. has singlehandedly blocked efforts in the United Nations to issue a statement on a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. How do you justify that?
And my question to Icelandic foreign minister. Iceland, with its strategic location, has seen huge interest from both U.S. and China. [China Q to Iceland] Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Happy to start. Thank you. First, I think it’s important to note that we are engaged in quiet but very intensive diplomacy in an effort to de-escalate and end violence and then hopefully move on to build something more positive in its wake. That’s involved and continues to involve dozens and dozens of phone calls and engagements with Israelis, with Palestinians, with virtually every partner country in the region as well as the work that’s being done on the ground by our Senior Envoy for Israel and Palestine Hady Amr.
With regard to the United Nations, we’re not standing in the way of diplomacy. On the contrary, as I said, we’re exercising it virtually non-stop. The question is: Would any given action or any given statement actually advance the goal of ending the violence and moving to a better place? And that’s the judgment that we bring to bear each time we’re considering what action to take, what initiative to follow. If we thought and if we think going forward that there’s something, including at the United Nations, that would actually effectively advance the objective, we would be for it. But right now, we are very focused on this intensive diplomacy with the objective of bringing violence to an end and, as I said, trying to build something positive in its wake.
FOREIGN MINISTER THORDARSON: [China answer]
QUESTION: [Arctic question]
And also, yesterday, you said the U.S. requested an explanation from Israel about its bombing of a high-rise building containing U.S. and foreign media offices. Have you received anything? And what’s your assessment of that?
Minister Thordarson, the new U.S. administration says America is back. Can you feel the difference?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m tempted to let my friend go first on that one. (Laughter.)
With regard to the second part of the question, we did seek further information from Israel on this question. It’s my understanding that we’ve received some further information through intelligence channels, and that’s not something that I can comment on.
[End unrelated to Israel, WBG]
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