Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal is getting closer, says U.S. secretary of state : NPR

Flares fired by the Israeli military north of Nuseirat are pictured from Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip late on July 1.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has a big job — with conflicts and tension around the globe, he runs point on U.S. foreign policy worldwide.

Central to that job, he says, is recognizing the humanity in the person across the table, friend or foe.

“If we end or minimize the terrible dehumanization we see in so many places around the world, then … I know that the best of humanity is not only possible, it’s what will happen,” he said on Friday.

In a wide-ranging conversation with All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly at the Aspen Security Forum, Secretary Blinken weighed in on everything from the prospect of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, to the war in Ukraine and what the U.S. is doing to bring home Americans detained in Russia.

Watch the full conversation in the YouTube video below:

Mary Louise Kelly in conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The following interview excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Mary Louise Kelly: Our ambassador at the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said this week, “negotiations on a ceasefire are trending in the right direction.” Is she right? And on what is that based?

Antony Blinken: What Linda said is right. I believe we’re inside the 10-yard line and driving toward the goal line in getting an agreement that would produce a ceasefire, get the hostages home, and put us on a better track to trying to build lasting peace and stability.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 17, 2024.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 17, 2024.

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Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Kelly: And again, on what is that based, other than hope?

Blinken: Hope is good, but it’s insufficient. No, it’s based on reality. And the reality is this: A month ago, President Biden put out a detailed proposal for getting to a ceasefire, the release of hostages, and the ability to move forward. And what happened after that was quite extraordinary. The entire world came together in support of that proposal, country after country standing up and endorsing it. The United Nations Security Council, where Linda did a tremendous job, coming together — something we don’t see that often these days — [voting] 14 to nothing, with Russia abstaining, in support of that agreement. And the result was, after a lot of pushing and diplomacy in the weeks after that, we have an agreement to the framework the president put out by both Israel and Hamas. The question now is finishing the negotiation of some critical details. There remains some issues that need to be resolved, that need to be negotiated. We’re in the midst of doing exactly that.

Kelly: One more on the Middle East. Is the two-state solution dead?

Blinken: Not only is it not dead, it can’t be.

Kelly: It’s very hard to find a path to optimism given that Israelis are now resisting it — government, ordinary people — Gaza is destroyed, settlers are taking more land in the West Bank. Where does that leave room for hope?

Blinken: You know, [late Senator] John McCain used to say that it’s always darkest before it goes completely black. If you keep that in mind, it’s not bad guidance for the work that we’re all trying to do. But look, there’s some fundamental realities that we can’t escape. The fundamental realities are these: Between Gaza and the West Bank there are somewhere over 5 million Palestinians, there are about 7 million Israeli Jews. Neither is going anywhere. Palestinians are not going anywhere. The Jews are not going anywhere.

There has to be an accommodation, but an accommodation that does two things: That brings lasting peace and lasting security to Israelis who so desperately want it and need it, and fulfills the right to self-determination of the Palestinians. Now, with any right comes responsibility. Responsibility to build a state that would not be a threat to Israel. That won’t be a Hamas-stan, that won’t be like Lebanon, with Hezbollah actually dominating the country. So there are important things that would need to happen in order for a state to be realized. But I believe strongly that, yes, that has to be the future.

And by the way, the two strongest opponents of a two-state solution, who are they? Iran and Hamas. So, the strongest possible rebuke to both Iran and Hamas would be the realization of two states. At every step along the way in the history of this, you go back to the Oslo Accords, who tried to disrupt the Oslo Accords? Hamas. When the Arabs launched the Arab Peace Initiative, and were moving toward recognition of Israel, who unfortunately effectively disrupted that? Hamas, with one of the most horrific terrorist attacks before October 7 that we’ve seen in Israel. So if you look at the logic of this, it’s compelling. And there’s something else. There is a different future. And we’ve seen its outlines — in almost embryonic form, but it’s there — a different future for Israel that realizes maybe its number one objective since the founding of the state. And that is its acceptance in the region, having normal relations with all of its neighbors. We see that through the work that we’re doing on normalization. We saw that when Iran attacked Israel, and, for the first time, a direct attack from Iran and Israel, the United States, but not just the United States, European countries and countries in the region, came to Israel’s defense. So, we can see a future where Israel is integrated in the region, it’s more secure, the Palestinians realize their aspirations for a state and the enemies of that future — Iran and its various proxies — are isolated.

Rescuers clear the rubble of the destroyed Ohmatdyt Children's Hospital following a missile attack in Kyiv on July 8.

Rescuers clear the rubble of the destroyed Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital following a missile attack in Kyiv on July 8.

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Roman Pilipey/AFP via Getty Images

Kelly: Thank you for making the case for hope. On Ukraine, I’ll start with the cause for hope: NATO has recently expanded military support. A lot of the ammunition shortages have been addressed. Dozens of F-16 fighter jets are on their way to Ukraine and are expected to be operational this summer.

I want to ask about what it would take for the U.S. to change its policy on how far Ukraine can shoot weapons into Russia. And I’m drawing for that question, I reached out to colleagues in our Kyiv bureau, including Ukrainian colleagues, I was curious what they would want to ask you. They want to know, does Washington want Ukraine to win or not?

Blinken: I think if you look at the last two-and-a-half years, it’s hard to conclude that anyone has done more for Ukraine to assure its success than the United States of America. And that will continue for as long as we have anything to say about it.

Kelly: That is true. But they would point out, they’re being asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back.

Blinken: Every step along the way, we’ve tried to make sure that we’re adapting and adjusting to the realities on the ground, to what’s actually happening, to make sure that Ukrainians have what they need when they need it. But often, it’s not as simple as it seems. Let me give you an example. At various points during these last two-and-a-half years, one weapon system or another has made its way into the headlines. Maybe it’s F-16s, which as you noted are in the process of being delivered, maybe it’s an Abrams tank, or some other system. And there seems to be this binary question: “Oh, we give it to them or we don’t.” But it’s not as simple as that. It’s not enough to give them a weapon system. They have to be able to use it. They have to be able to maintain it. It has to be part of a cohesive strategy. And so, as we’ve done these things, and [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Lloyd Austin has done an extraordinary job bringing together more than 50 countries in support of Ukraine’s defense, but also working through each of these decisions.

Kelly: I want to ask about Americans detained in Russia, including Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, who was sentenced this morning to 16 years in prison, and also Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this year for his columns for The Washington Post. How do we bring them home?

Blinken: I think you had [U.S. Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs] Roger Carstens here a couple of days ago. Roger, his team, every single day, are working to bring unjustly detained Americans home, wherever they’re held. And of course, when it comes to Evan, when it comes to Paul Whelan, in Russia, other Americans, we are working quite literally every day, looking to see what we can do to get them home. We’ve had a rather extraordinary track record over the last three-and-a-half years of doing just, that bringing some 30 Americans home from different places around the world where they were being unjustly detained. All I can tell you is this: we’re working it. We’re working it as we speak, and we’re not going to stop until we get Evan home. We get Paul Whelan home. Until we get others home.

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