Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry

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March 21, 2024

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Matthew Miller:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Shoukry discussed ongoing efforts to protect Palestinian civilians, increase humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and secure an immediate ceasefire that includes the release of hostages. The Secretary and the Foreign Minister consulted on how to advance a path to a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel. Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ rejection of any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Shoukry also discussed shared objectives for regional stability, including responding to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, addressing instability in Libya, and ending the war in Sudan.


Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at a Joint Press Availability




FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  (Via interpreter) Good evening.  I would like to welcome His Excellency the U.S. Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken in his visit to Cairo.  We honored to meet him this morning, and he was received by Mr. President.  We also held a session for bilateral discussions and deliberations later on, and during the meeting of the minister, with the president, and with me, then his meeting with the Arab ministers, Gaza’s topic was the main topic that occupied most of the discussions that took place.

However, during his meeting with the president and with myself, we discussed the most – the importance of the American-Egyptian relationships and its nature from the strategic, socioeconomic perspectives and the mutual interest in the stability and the grounds of this relationship in order to face the mutual challenges.  Of course, we talked about the mutual appreciation, and the more the American-Egyptian relationships are strong, the more we achieve regional stability.

Referring to Gaza’s issue, in all the meetings there was a focus on the situation of the war in Gaza and the importance to reach a ceasefire and hostage release and to work on in terms of sharing the amount of humanitarian aid to face unprecedented situation either regarding the civilians who faced the repercussions of the war, and the death of this amount of civilians – almost 30,000 – 20,000 of them are women and children.  The obstacles that hinder the increase of the aids were also discussed.  We talked also about the broader issues, like the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and ending this conflict on the basis of two-state solution and the international legitimacy.

However, it’s – of course, facing the current situation regarding the ongoing war: the suffering, the material suffering; the famine; and the situation in Rafah.  The situation in Rafah has – in a very narrow corner there’s almost 1,400,000 Palestinians living in very tough conditions from all the perspectives, so it’s necessary to tackle any additional repercussions.  It’s necessary also that Israel will conduct more military operations in this area due to its resulted civilians killings.  In addition to the displacements and many other issues, these things the international community, including the United States, agreed to avoid.

The discussions with the ministers were characterized with depth and honesty regarding the mutual actions and its importance between the United States and the attending Arab ministers, including minister of the Saudi Arabia, minister – prime minister of Qatar, minister of foreign affairs and the vice prime minister of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority representative, state of Emirate.  There was an agreement on the importance of the continuity of cooperation with United States regarding the current issues due to its sensitivity.  Regarding the – including the scale of the conflict and handling the major topics, including the ceasefire and hostage release and the humanitarian situation, we need to work seriously with the specific procedures in order to tackle these exceptional conditions.

I’d like to welcome his excellency the minister.  We agreed to continue the coordination with each other and that the experts will meet soon in order to agree on concrete steps to handle the issue of increasing the humanitarian aid.  We’re looking forward that our mutual efforts would have effect.  In the time being, there is no room to wait.  Furthermore, there is no room to place the suffering, and there is no room to make the work continue.  We hope that we can get over all of this and reach a new phase in the region, away from the conflict and revenge, a phase where the conflict would end on the two-state solution and the establishment of the Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital, and both peoples of Israel and Palestine would enjoy peace and security and cooperation, with more feelings all the peoples of the region will benefit from.

I’d like to welcome the minister and give him the floor.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Sameh, thank you very, very much, and good evening, everyone.  And let me start by wishing all a blessed Ramadan.  My friend Sameh also pointed out that it’s Mother’s Day for many in the region, so happy Mother’s Day, and also thank you for reminding me to call my mother.

We had a very productive meetings today with President Sisi, with Foreign Minister Shoukry, as well as with our colleagues, and I’ll come to that in a minute.  Over the last two days in my travels to the region, we met intensively with all of our – virtually all of our regional partners from Saudi Arabia, from Egypt, from Jordan, from the UAE, from Qatar, the Palestinian Authority.  But I very much appreciate the foreign minister hosting today’s meeting with the Arab foreign ministers.  I’ve been meeting – speaking individually to them over the past several weeks, but it was very good to be together, to have the opportunity to meet as a group; to share views on where we are, where we need to go, and how we can best get there.  And there’s a clear consensus around a number of shared priorities.

First, the need for an immediate, sustained ceasefire with release of hostages.  That would create space to surge more humanitarian assistance, to relieve the suffering of many people, and to build something more enduring.  We’ve been working, as you know, with Egypt, with Qatar, and with Israel to put a strong proposal on the table.  Hamas responded to that, negotiators continue to work, the gaps are narrowing, and we’re continuing to push for an agreement in Doha.  There’s still difficult work to get there, but I continue to believe it’s possible.  The United States has also put forward a United Nations Security Council resolution to support these efforts, and we hope that all countries back that resolution.

Second, there’s an agreement, as you heard from Minister Shoukry, on the urgent need to surge and sustain humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza.  Children should not be dying of malnutrition in Gaza or anywhere else for that matter.  A hundred percent – a hundred percent of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity.  We cannot, we must not allow that to continue.  Now, the ceasefire that we’re working on would be the best, most immediate way to enable us to surge humanitarian assistance, but it’s not the only way.  Regardless, we have to be doing that.  We’ve seen some improvement over the last couple of weeks in getting humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, but it’s not enough, and, as I said, we need to really surge and sustain the assistance across land, across sea, and across air.

We have senior officials meeting today in Cyprus to coordinate the international efforts on the maritime corridor, and that includes support for the U.S. military mission to construct a pier – a temporary pier – as an additional channel for aid.  As we’ve said before and I want to emphasize, this maritime corridor, this pier, is a complement to, not a substitute for, other means of getting assistance to people who need it.  And in particular the land crossings are the most critical means of getting aid to those in need.

As Ministry Shoukry said, we agreed today – all of the ministers – that we would get our experts together in the coming days to identify the urgent, practical, and concrete steps that can and should be taken to increase the flow of assistance.  Israel needs to do more.  Tomorrow, I’ll be talking to our partners about how to coordinate our efforts.

As the foreign minister mentioned a well, we also discussed Rafah.  We all share concerns.  There are more than a million people in Rafah, many of whom were displaced from other parts of Gaza.  A major ground operation there would mean more civilian deaths, it would worsen the humanitarian crisis.  There is a better way to deal with the threat – the ongoing threat posed by Hamas.

Third, we discussed and agreed on the need for long-term peace and security, this discussion very much consistent with the principles that I laid out in Tokyo many months ago: that Gaza cannot be used as a platform for terrorism; there can be no displacement of its population; there can be no reoccupation by Israel.  And we also agreed that this requires a path to two states with real security guarantees for Israel.

In turn, this also requires real reform of the Palestinian Authority.  And we’ve seen some initial steps in that direction; more is needed.  Revitalizing the PA with a better, more representative government, including Palestinians from Gaza, is critical to achieving the vision of Gaza unified with the West Bank under Palestinian Authority authority.  If and as the Palestinian Authority pursues reform, I’m also convinced that the region will strongly support it.

Regional integration is one of the building blocks of lasting peace and lasting security, and that includes normalization for Israel with its neighbors.  Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet again with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as well as with the foreign minister, and we had a very good discussion about the work that we’ve been doing for many months now on normalization, and that work is moving forward.  We’re continuing to make good progress.  I believe we can reach an agreement which would present a historic opportunity for two nations, but also for the region as a whole.

So I think if you look back on these past couple of months, since I was here in January, we have been working very closely together with our Arab partners on all of these post-conflict pieces.  There’s not only more consensus on the priorities – ceasefire, release of hostages, humanitarian assistance, and a clear pathway planned for the future – I think there is increasingly consensus on the steps needed to achieve that.

These are difficult days, but that only reinforces our determination to get to better days.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Now the room is open for taking two questions for every minister.  We’ll start with Ms. Elshalakany from Al-Dostour newspaper.  Please.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) My question is for His Excellency Mr. Sameh Shoukry.  Today’s meeting is the third meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs of six countries to tackle how to deal with the crisis in the Gaza Strip.  These meetings, of course, include the minister of foreign affairs in the United States.  After the visits of Minister Blinken in the region, can you inform us with the spaces of agreement and disagreement on how to get out of this current crisis and to explain to us how this – the positions are close to each other regarding the future of Israel, continuing with the – the Palestinian issue.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  (Via interpreter) I believe that there is a great ground regarding the consensus and the agreement on the importance of ceasefire and hostage release, and this should be done as soon as possible, so there is a room for mitigation and raising the amount of humanitarian aids.

We value the danger of the humanitarian situation.  That’s why we developed this mechanism at the level of the specialized officials in order to find out ways to increase the aid.  There’s also consensus or agreement regarding the necessity to avoid a military escalation in Rafah and the total rejection for displacement of the Palestinians outside their lands.  This is a common ground, but we have to set the mechanisms on the implementation of these goals.  We should go beyond and reach another phase, a (inaudible) phase, which is from the political perspective of this conflict, this can be achieved through the two-state solution.

So we have to tackle both the current issues for the time being and the future issues in order to avoid the vicious circles of the conflicts and the heritage of blood that the current generations would bear with.  We have to set the mechanisms and we should be confident in our partner such as United States that has a special relationship with the states of the region as well.  Especially with Israel it has an effective role, and of course regarding also the support to – from the other states in the region that has connections with the United States.

So we have a mutual vision regarding a region that enjoys stability to end this conflict that lasted for seven decades.  We have to work and intensify our work.  It’s not enough to be in an agreement regarding the goal, but we have to set the procedures necessary to achieve this goal.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Another question.  Ms. Pamuk from Reuters.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR:  Reuters?  Reuters – (inaudible.)

QUESTION: I can shout.  No, no, I’m waiting for the microphone, but I can shout.

Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, Foreign Minister.  Mr. Secretary, you mentioned Doha when talking about ceasefire talks.  Can you confirm CIA Chief Bill Burns is going to be there, and do you think these talks are now in the final stretch?

You also talked about your meeting with Saudi crown prince.  What progress exactly have you made?  Are we close to having a U.S.-Saudi civil defense pact and cooperation on civil nuclear agreement?  What are your remaining sticking points?

And on Rafah, Israel’s strategic minister Ron Dermer in a podcast said Israel will take control of Rafah even if it leads to a potential breach with the United States.  These comments, like many more comments that we’ve heard over the last couple of months, are in complete contradiction with U.S. stance, and you’re going to Israel tomorrow.  I feel like I’ve asked you this question many times, but I’ll try again:  How will you convince an ally that knows there won’t be any serious consequences even if it ignores U.S. warnings repeatedly?

Mr. Foreign Minister, would you – would Egypt allow Hamas members to go through its territory to depart for third-party countries?  And separately, U.S. has withheld $85 million of military aid to Egypt last year, saying it has concerns over its human rights track record.  How do you feel that U.S. seems unwilling to use the same leverage to Israel?  Does that double standard bother you?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Humeyra.  Let me again thank you also for getting all of your colleagues’ questions, too.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Oh, there will be more.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first of all, on Doha, I can’t speak to the CIA director’s schedule.  I can speak to the fact that he’s been doing an extraordinary job in working with our counterparts from Qatar, from Egypt, as well as from Israel in trying to get to an agreement on a ceasefire with the release of hostages.  The teams are working every single day on this.  As I said, there are still real challenges.  We’ve closed the gaps, but there are still gaps.  So I can’t – I can’t put a timeline on it.  I can just say that we’re committed to doing everything possible to reach an agreement, and that work is ongoing as we speak.  And I also had an opportunity during this trip meeting with counterparts from Egypt and from Qatar to help pursue that effort.

With regard to Saudi Arabia, what – again, what I can tell you is this:  This is something, the normalization plan that we’ve been working on for many months – in fact, we were working on this intensely before October 7th, and in fact I was scheduled to come to the region, to Saudi Arabia and to Israel, on October 10th, precisely for that reason, and to actually focus on the Palestinian component of the normalization plan.

But in terms of where we are now, what I can say is this:  We’ve made very good progress over – especially over the last month or so.  We still have some work to do, but I believe that, again, the progress is good, it’s real.  I can’t put a timeframe on it, but we are I think getting close to a point where we’ll – we’ll have agreements.

On Rafah – again, we’ve been very clear, President Biden has been very clear, that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and something that we can’t support.  There is no place for the many civilians who are massed in Gaza – in Rafah, excuse me – to go to get out of harm’s way.  And for those that would inevitably remain, it would be a humanitarian disaster.

But there is also a false choice involved here, because we are determined – as Israel is, and indeed as other partners in the region are – to deal with the ongoing problem posed by Hamas, a threat to so many.  And Hamas can be effectively dealt with without a major ground operation in Rafah, and one of the reasons that we have counterparts from the Israeli Government coming to Washington next week is precisely to focus on that, to share with them our views on what alternative actions could be that would deal with the – with this very significant problem, but in a way that does not do further harm to civilians.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  Well, related to the question about Hamas, which is purely speculative, I have no knowledge and – or information pertaining to the fact that any such arrangements are under consideration either in the Doha or Egypt rounds of discussions on a cessation of hostilities and a release of hostages and detainees.  So it’s not something that I would comment on, but I would only reiterate that Egypt will do whatever is possible, whatever is required to facilitate a cessation of hostilities and an end to the military activity for the purpose of the security of the Palestinian civilians that have lost so many lives, the children and women that have been killed during these five months, and thereby we will continue to engage actively among friends related to the resolution of this conflict.

Related to the issue of Egypt’s assistance program with the United States, so this is a bilateral matter and we have in-depth discussions which addresses all of the various parameters and – of the assistance program, and we have a deep understanding and discussion that facilitates that we continue to address this issue in terms of the mutual interest that the assistance program represents to both countries.

On the more broader issue of double standards, yes, we are concerned that the world’s rule-based order is under severe stress because of a perception and an application of double standards as relates to the Palestinian cause in comparison to other conflicts in the world, whether in terms of humanitarian, in terms of human rights, in terms of cessation of hostilities, which has always been the basic principle of international order is that in any conflict there should be an immediate cessation and halt to military activity and resolution of a conflict through diplomatic channels.

So the moral basis upon which we can rely on a world order are being strained directly because of a sense in many quarters – among them ourselves, many of our Arab and Muslim colleagues – is that there is an application of a double standard.  And this should be recognized as a severe challenge to our ability to work together, to continue to cooperate on a predictable set of principles that should govern all our – of our actions.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Randa Abul Azm from Al-Arabiya.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good evening.  Excellency, Minister, my question is for Minister Sameh Shoukry and also for Mr. Antony Blinken.  We repeatedly – and even yesterday we heard about a dialogue from the Israeli Government and from the office of Netanyahu that they are about to enter Rafah, and there are Israeli policies on the ground that establish the displacement and emigration that Egypt refused from day one.  Through your meeting with Mr. Blinken, have you touched any change in the American policies?  Here I do not speak about the statements that condemn this; I mean the policy.  Will the United States do anything if Israel entered Rafah?  Have you touched any changes in the policy?

My question also is for – also Mr. Antony Blinken:  Do you intend (inaudible) the export of weapons to Israel, like Canada did and like Germany threatened?  Because some people see that Israel is using these weapons in order to kill civilians.  We know that more than 32,000 civilians – 70 percent of them women and children – were killed in this war.  So do you intend to stop giving weapons to Israel as a means of pressure instead of just condemning?  The issue of Rafah is very important.  I’d like to know more about it.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  (Via interpreter) I will not speak on the behalf of the ministry – the Minister Blinken, but I can emphasize the fact that the statements of President Biden and the minister and all the occasions (inaudible) divisions between each other, which is the total rejection of military operations in Rafah, especially within the current humanitarian conditions and the resultant dangers either on the humanitarian level or on the level of the issue of migration and displacement and the ending of the Palestinian cause and removing the burden to other states, either Egypt or Jordan.  And also, the resulting complications in the regional relationships – this will put lots of pressure from the political perspective regarding the ability to continue the neutral action and find those solutions for the challenges and activating the full implementation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

I will give the floor to the minister so he can speak about this.  But we agree on the danger – about how dangerous the situation is and how necessary we should avoid it, and we should take all the necessary procedures in order to stop this.

The floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Look, I can only repeat that our position, which is very clear, is that a major military operation in Rafah would be a mistake, something we don’t support, and it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas, which is necessary.  We’re going to have an opportunity next week to share in detail that view with our Israeli counterparts and to lay out our views on how to deal with the problem differently.  So I don’t want to get ahead of that.  That’s what we’re focused on in the coming days.

QUESTION:  But no military assistance will be stopped?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about the future.  We’re focused on the present, which is meetings that we planned next week, again, to make clear why we think it would be a mistake to engage in major military operations in Rafah, but also why there’s a false choice involved.  It is possible and, indeed, necessary to deal with the ongoing threat posed by Hamas, but without a major military operation.  That’s what we want to discuss with our Israeli counterparts next week.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)

Michael, Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thanks a lot.  Michael Birnbaum from The Washington Post.  Secretary Blinken, you spent today talking about post-conflict plans, and can you tell us a little bit about the gaps that remain in your – and also, those plans all depend on Israel’s willingness to agree to a Palestinian state eventually.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has a long history of extreme skepticism.  There are others in his cabinet who seem totally opposed.  So what is your strategy for convincing the Israelis to agree to this, again, given they have a track record during this conflict of rejecting most of your big proposals?

And then a question about aid and your work there.  You’re building a pier.  You’re – we’re doing these air drops into Gaza.  You’re saying that the Gaza needs for humanitarian assistance is greater than in Afghanistan and Sudan.  At the same time, U.S.-sourced weaponry is creating that need for aid.  So it seems a little paradoxical.  How do you resolve that paradox for Americans and for the Palestinians you say you’re trying to help?

And Minister Shoukry, we just heard you restate your position.  We also heard Secretary Blinken say that Palestinians should not be displaced from their land.  We know the history behind your concerns, but at the same time you also just mentioned double standards.  In other conflicts, refugees commonly flee the conflict.  They go into neighboring countries; they seek safety in their neighbors.  A large portion of the residents of Gaza are starving and you in Egypt are in a unique position to help save lives.  So I just wanted to ask why you won’t do it in this case?

Thanks a lot.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, thank you.  I’ll try to take on all these questions.  There are – as I said, there’s a lot of consensus on, first of all, the most urgent issues, but there’s also a lot of consensus on where to go going forward, including for post-conflict Gaza and including for how to build an enduring and lasting peace.  We had an opportunity today to discuss in some greater detail post-conflict Gaza, including questions of security, administration of governance, development.  And we also talked about what would be necessary for lasting and enduring peace.  And I think in our shared judgment, that includes a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.  So I think on the big principles we have very much a shared approach.

Now, obviously the details matter.  We shared some thoughts today.  We’re looking very carefully at what our partners have suggested.  They’re taking into consideration some of the things that we’ve put on the table.  And we’re going to continue these discussions, these talks, because even as we’re dealing with the immediate crisis and the urgency that comes with that, we also have to be prepared and planning together for what comes next.

When it comes to a Palestinian state, look, in this moment, given the passions, given the horrific events of October 7th, given the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza in these last five months, I know it’s hard.  It’s hard for people to focus on the future and how to get out of this endless cycle of terrorism, violence, death, destruction.  But it’s important that we be working on that, so when the moment is right and people can begin to focus on it – and really focus on the choice that’s there, and I think the choice is clear.  As I’ve said before, there is a path forward where Israel is genuinely integrated into the region; its security is guaranteed; the Palestinians have a state that they’re – that they deserve and are entitled to, with appropriate security guarantees for Israel; we have a reformed and strong Palestinian Authority to engage in governance.  And that path is both clear and it’s possible.

And what’s changed recently is the commitment of virtually every country in the region to really pursue the integration of Israel into the region.  But that also requires that there be a pathway to a Palestinian state, and, of course, it requires that there be an end to the conflict in Gaza.  So we need to continue to do the work, and when the – when people are able to focus on that path versus the alternative, which, as I said, is a path that leads to endless cycles of violence and also a path that is to the benefit of perhaps the biggest threat to Israel and to many others, which is Iran and its various proxies.  The perpetuation of this cycle only benefits Iran and the proxies that are working for it.  So I think, as that choice is clear, people will begin to really think about it and make decisions.

Finally, the paradox that you – look, we’re committed to Israel’s right to defend itself and to making sure that it has what it needs to defend itself and to make sure that October 7th never happens again.  We’re also committed to doing everything we possibly can to help people who are in harm’s way, to protect them from harm if we can, and to give them the assistance they need wherever they are, including in Gaza.  These are distinct things, and you’ve heard our determination – our shared determination – among all the partners about the urgency of getting more assistance to more people more effectively.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  Well, thank you for your question.  Certainly the conditions are unprecedented and are incomparable to any other conflict that has erupted in the world or how it has been dealt with or the reactions of the international community towards what is happening.  But at the same time, I think the vast majority of Palestinians both in Gaza and the West Bank recognize that there’s potentially an intention to liquidate the Palestinian cause, Palestinian rights, by the issue of displacement, by actions that will create internal and external displacement.

And they don’t want a further Nakba.  They are associated for centuries to this land that they are committed to maintain.  Their position on this land – and they have shown a resilience that has gone beyond anything other than mere courageousness of recognizing their legitimate rights and upholding them, whether they do not find the necessary resolve of the international community to recognize that their human rights are as precious as anyone else’s and that the circumstances that they are in should not exist – should not exist in the 21st century, should not exist by virtue of the Charter of the United Nations or the rule-based order that we seem to advocate.

But at the same time, Egypt has undertaken its responsibility in terms of provision of assistance, almost 70 percent of it generated by the Egyptian Government, by the Egyptian nongovernmental organizations.  And at the same time, the reception of multitudes of Palestinians, civilians, children, women who are – babies who have been transferred into Egypt for hospitalization and for treatment.  We will continue to address this issue in the humane manner that we have in the past, whether it’s related to those who are coming out for need of assistance or their vulnerability.

And you should be in a position as the media to ask why is the media restricted from reporting effectively what is happening and being in Gaza and reporting on what is the actual state of the humanitarian conditions that exist.  We’ll do everything possible, and again, because that we look to work together with the United States so that we can end this conflict, both in the short term and hopefully resolve this conflict categorically in the future on the basis of a two-state solution.

I want to thank Tony for the time he has provided us and to wish everyone here a blessed Ramadan.  (In Arabic.)  Thank you very much.

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