Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Gayle King and Charles Barkley of CNN’s King Charles

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Gayle King and Charles Barkley of CNN’s King Charles

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.  We’re very glad that you’re on the program tonight.  We’ve been looking forward to this conversation, haven’t we, Charles?

QUESTION:  This is pretty special.

QUESTION:  Yeah, we think it’s very special.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great to be with both of you.  Gayle, Charles, thanks for having me.

QUESTION:  Yes.  We feel that too.  Let’s talk about the hostages, if we could.  The talks have broken down, the war has resumed, and of course everybody’s concern worldwide is about the fate of the hostages.  I realize it’s all hands on deck; all countries are working to secure their hostages, to get them home safely, to get all of the hostages home.  But I’m wondering, is the Biden administration doing anything specifically to get the release of the American hostages, realizing we want all the hostages home?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Gayle, we’re at this every single day, and it’s my number one responsibility – I know the President feels this, his number one responsibility – to look out for any American who’s in harm’s way abroad, and especially those who are being held hostage, being held captive in some way.  I’ve met with the families.  I’ve heard directly from them, and that’s the thing that motivates me the most.  We will not rest until we get every single one.

QUESTION:  Yeah, it’s not enough – all the families.  I always say this, Mr. Secretary, that for all these hostages, they’re numbers for some people, but for the family members they are somebody’s everything.  So can you share with us —


QUESTION:  — if you can, specifically what you guys are doing?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, you’ll understand I can’t get into the details because this is literally going on daily and even more than daily, sometimes even hourly, trying to find a way, an angle to get this – to get this restarted.  And you’re exactly right:  These are not – it’s not a question of numbers; these are real people, real lives, real families whose lives have been torn upside down.  I’ve got photographs of all of them.  It’s real for me, it’s real for the President, and we’re on this.

Unfortunately, Hamas gets the vote, and Hamas stopped releasing hostages.  It reneged on its commitments to Israel and to everyone else concerned.  They chose to end this process of releasing hostages.  They need to choose to start it again.

QUESTION:  You asked Israel to take precaution as far as civilians in Gaza.  Is that actually possible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Charles, I think it’s important to do two things.  First, we’ve got to put this in perspective.  What happened on October 7th is something I’ve never seen in the 30 years that I’ve been doing this professionally, and for that matter, the 50 years or so that I’ve been going to Israel in one way or another.  Children executed in front of their parents.  Parents executed in front of their children.  Families burned alive.  You heard yesterday about the horrific sexual violence, the rapes of so many young women.  What was done deliberately, intentionally, with the brutality that really I’ve encountered almost nowhere else in the many years that I’ve been doing this.

So, and then you have this terrorist group, Hamas, do that, retreat to Gaza, and intentionally embed itself with civilians, with innocent men, women, and children – in and under apartment buildings, in and under hospitals, in and under mosques, in and under schools.  So it’s very, very challenging for Israel to do what it needs to do to try to make sure that this never happens again, and getting at Hamas.

But having said that, and as we’ve said from day one, they nonetheless have an obligation to do everything possible to protect civilians, to distinguish between terrorists and innocent men, women, and children.  And this is something that we’ve been on.

QUESTION:  And that point doesn’t seem to be going so well, Mr. Secretary, about keeping the civilians safe, because the civilians are dying, including thousands of children.  And I think that’s what’s so heartbreaking for everybody around the world.  What happens —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s gut-wrenching.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Yes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s gut-wrenching for all of us.  But what we’re seeing now is we’re seeing some, I think, important steps being taken as they’re operating, they’re beginning to operate in the south of Gaza after operations in the north.  And in the south, what we’re seeing – and I said to them very clearly when I was there just a week ago:  We cannot have a repeat of what happened in the north in the south in terms of harm being done to civilians, and also making sure that humanitarian assistance is getting to people who need it, who are in desperate need of food, of water, of shelter.

So what we’re seeing is areas clearly designated by Israel that are safe areas where there’s not going to be firing, or the military.  We’ve seen efforts to make sure that people know that they need to move and not in – not the entire city, but just discrete neighborhoods.  So that’s positive.  On the other hand, there’s more that has to happen, that needs to be done:  making sure that people have safe corridors in order to get from areas that could be in danger to places where they’ll be safe; making sure that those areas where they’re going to have the proper resources, have the food, have the water, have the medicine to care for them while they’re in those areas.  So there are a number of things that that need to happen.  We’re on this with them every single day.

QUESTION:  My son-in-law is an amazing man and a great husband.  He’s also Jewish, and you’re Jewish.  He’s taken this Israel thing very personally.  And how are you feeling?  How does it affect you?  Because he’s struggling.  How do – you as a Jewish man, how are you handling the entire situation mentally?

QUESTION:  And the stepson of a Holocaust survivor too, which I think adds another layer of pain in this particular story.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, of course it’s affected me personally, and I’ve talked about that a little bit.  It’s affected me personally because, yes, my late stepfather survived the Holocaust.  He was in the concentration camps in Majdanek and Dachau and Auschwitz.  And then my father’s father, in a different generation at the turn of the last century, got chased out of actually what’s now Ukraine by pogroms that were designed to kill or chase Jews away.

So when I saw what happened on October 7th, of course it had a personal resonance.  It had a resonance that goes to the history of the Jewish people, especially by the nature, the savagery of the attacks that were committed.  But having said that, I’m an American.  I have the awesome responsibility and privilege of being Secretary of State and representing all of the American people around the world on behalf of the President.  And as I’m doing my job to the best of my ability, I’m trying to make sure that I’m reflecting America’s interests, America’s values, and doing what’s right for our country.

QUESTION:  How safe – how safe – two questions.  How safe are Jewish students in college?  And where is the line between hate speech and freedom of speech?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Charles, we’re seeing this every day play out on our campuses.  And while I’m focused on the world beyond our borders, like anyone else, I’m reading, hearing about what’s happening on some campuses, talking to my own relatives who have kids who are college age who’ve been on the receiving end of this.  And it’s deeply, deeply disturbing, and more, to see some of the hate that we’re hearing on college campuses, the expressions of vitriol, the intimidation of students just for being who they are, and that’s something that is not entirely new, but it’s sort of come out from beneath the rock since October 7th.

And by the way, I’m also deeply disturbed about the same kind of hatred and vitriol being directed against Muslim Americans, Arab Americans.  We see this in all different directions.  And we have to get back to a place where people on all of our campuses can feel safe being who they are, what they are, and saying what they believe.

QUESTION:  I think you raise a really good point about feeling safe and being able to speak, because I know so many people are struggling with even how to have a – even how to have a conversation about this, Mr. Secretary.  No matter what you say – no matter what you say or how you say it, you are immediately slammed by somebody.  How can we have this conversation intelligently and respectfully with all these different points of view?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, my humble opinion is this.  Here’s where it starts.  It starts with stopping something, and what we need to stop is the dehumanization of the other.  We have to recognize the humanity in each other.  We have to try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  We have to have that openness of mind and openness of heart.  And when you have that, you can talk about anything – even the hardest things.  But once you start dehumanizing, once you start seeing someone as another and somehow not human, that takes – that takes every guardrail, every check away.  And then it’s open season.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I always say – I always say that – I always say that it’s very hard to hate up close, just having —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Exactly.  Exactly.

QUESTION:  I always say that.

QUESTION:  What part do our politicians – have they played?  Because clearly, if you watch television every day, the Democrats and Republicans, they’re not civil to each other.  What part do you think they played in our – us losing our civility?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, one of the great things about this job, being Secretary of State, is I don’t do politics.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t want to start.  But you know —

QUESTION:  What do you mean you don’t – wait a second.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, President Biden —

QUESTION:  Wait a second, Mr. Secretary.  Your whole job is politics.  What do you mean you don’t do politics?  You have to explain.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Around the world, but not here at home.


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  But here’s the thing.  What I’ve heard President Biden say for years – because I’ve had the immense privilege of working for him for more than 20 years, and he will – he’s constantly said over these years it’s totally appropriate to be questioning each other’s judgments, but let’s stop questioning each other’s motives.  Let’s assume good motives, good intentions, and then we can really have a conversation and we can really try to get to someplace better.  I think that’s what we need to do too.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I like what you said about the conversations that you’ve had with President Biden about questioning people’s – you can have conversations; you don’t really need to question people’s motives.

But I would like to end with this.  What’s your personal mantra that gets you through?  Because I think I’m going to adopt whatever you’re having.  What’s your personal mantra, Mr. Secretary?  And then we’re going to let you go.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, it’s funny because one of the – I had a chance the other night to meet Rob Reiner, the great director and actor, and one of – he made one of my favorite movies of all time, “This is Spinal Tap.”  So this is probably the wrong thing to say.  But I told him, actually, that movie has my mantra in it.  One of the characters says at one point:  “There’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.”  I try to stay on the right side of that line every day.

QUESTION:  Okay.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Hey, it’s been an honor.


QUESTION:  And thank you very much.

QUESTION:  Yes.  We are very grateful.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great to be with you both.

QUESTION:  We are very grateful.  Thank you, sir.


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