Joe Biden

Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden's Call with Prime Minister Netanyahu

July 04, 2024

Via Teleconference

2:37 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Thanks so much for joining today's call, especially on a holiday weekend. As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to a senior administration official.

The official we have on today, for your awareness, not for your reporting, is [senior administration official]. With that, I'll turn it over to [senior administration official] for some words at the top, and then we can take your questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, everybody. Happy Fourth of July. I thought we'd just give some background and color on the call that the President had today with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So, the President spoke today with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The call lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the details of the hostage and ceasefire negotiations. The President and the Prime Minister walked through the draft agreement and outstanding issues, most of which now relate specifically to the implementation of the agreement.

The President, of course, has been personally engaged in this negotiation for months, including multiple calls with President Sisi of Egypt and the Emir of Qatar, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu and other leaders around the world.

Over the last 24 hours or so, the President and his team -- national security team -- were involved in the hostage talks, studied the response received through Qatari mediators from Hamas earlier this week, a couple days ago. It's clear that this response moves the process forward and may provide the basis for closing a deal.

This deal, as you know, would see hostages come home in the first phase -- all women, men over 50, sick and wounded -- together with a full ceasefire, relief for the civilians of Gaza, including a massive surge in humanitarian assistance that the ceasefire would enable, together with rehabilitation of essential services, including bakeries, (inaudible) water lines, medical facilities, and the entry of heavy equipment for the removal of rubble.

The President and the Prime Minister discussed the additional steps and outstanding issues that need to be resolved to reach this first phase of the deal. They also discussed elements related to the second phase of the deal, which, as the President laid out in his address in late May, would bring a permanent ceasefire, the release of all remaining living hostages, including Israeli soldiers.

The conversation was detailed, going through the text of the agreement; instructive; and, we think, encouraging, while also clear-eyed about the work ahead and steps that must be put in place to finalize this deal and then begin the implementation.

The President noted he's grateful once again for the mediation led by his team, as well as Qatar and Egypt. And he'll have the opportunity next week, during the NATO Summit, to discuss the deal with European partners as well, all of whom, as I noted -- as we noted many times -- have endorsed this framework following the President's address in May that set forth many of the details of this agreement for the world. This agreement, of course, has now been endorsed by the G7, by the U.N. Security Council, and countries around the world.

The two leaders then discussed the situation on the border with Lebanon, as the President reaffirmed his support for Israel's security against all threats from Iranian-backed terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah. And they discussed the arrangements in the north that would allow Israeli families to return safely to their homes and, of course, Lebanese families to return safely to their homes, which is a shared priority of the United States and Israel. This is something we remain very focused on; the President is, again, directly involved in.

The President, over the course of the call, (inaudible) the loss of the Prime Minister's brother, as he commanded the Israeli unit that rescued Israeli hostages 48 years ago today in Entebbe, Uganda.

He emphasized his lifelong commitment to Israel's security, his unwavering commitment to see the hostages now held in Gaza released together with a ceasefire deal, as we've outlined.

And the two leaders agreed to stay in close contact, including through their national security teams, which we've confirmed will meet in Washington in what is known as the Strategic Consultative Group format on July 15th.

We've been involved in many of these calls on the hostage deal. And I have to say, given the recent developments, we do believe there is a pretty significant opening here. And we welcome the Prime Minister's readiness to try to seize that opening by empowering his negotiating team to engage directly in Doha over the coming days.

In the Oval Office with the President, again, as is standard protocol, we had the Vice President, Jake Sullivan. We had Tony Blinken, Bill Burns, Job Finer, Brett McGurk, Steve Ricchetti, Jeff Zients, and Phil Gordon. And they were able to get some other -- obviously, some other national security work done over the course of about an hour and a half or so in the Oval Office today.

So that is some, kind of, color on the call, but I'm happy to address any questions. Again, we're thankful for you joining here on a holiday.


MODERATOR: Thanks. Our first question will go to Aamer. You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hey. I just want to make sure I heard that right: The talks will happen in Doha in the coming days? Can you say when? And is Doha -- or did I hear that correctly?

And then, two, if you could just speak a little to what's changed within the Hamas response that's causing this cautious optimism. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Likely -- and of course, the platform for these talks is sometimes -- they'll have sometimes Cairo. I think over the coming days, as early as tomorrow, we're likely to see an Israeli delegation in Doha.

I just want to emphasize this does not mean this deal is going to be closed in a period of days. There is significant work to be done on some of the implementation steps. But as negotiations go, until you get a framework in place and more or less agreed, getting to the implementation steps and the arrangement of sequencing issues, that's hard to do. I think it's fair to say now the framework is very much in place, and that gets to your question.

Some of the key issues on the transition of a phase one to phase two have really been a stumbling block. I think we had a breakthrough in that area. The text now is very consistent with the address of the President on May 27th and the U.N. Security Council resolution, and the fact that to get to phase one to phase two, you have to have other arrangements negotiated. We've always agreed and known that.

And of course, as mediators, so long as those indirect negotiations are going on and negotiations are going on in good faith, the ceasefire would remain in place.

But I think what we got back from Hamas was a pretty significant adjustment to what had been their position, and we think that is encouraging. We have heard the same from the Israelis. And I think the framework is now in place, and we have to work out the implementation steps.

But I don't -- I just want to stress that this is not a deal that's going to come together in a period of days. There's still work to do, and we're prepared to do all we can to facilitate reaching an agreement as soon as possible -- a final agreement.

MODERATOR: Next up we'll go to Jeff Mason.

Q: Thanks very much. Will the United States participate in these talks in Doha? Will you have representatives there? And can you give us a sense of whether -- or how the two sides have bridged the Hamas demand that Israel enforce or agree to a permanent ceasefire?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. So we will, of course, have representation in Doha. We have had a team involved in talks here really since the beginning. And that will continue.

We don't have any other travel to announce. Obviously, Bill and myself and others who are directly engaged in this will engage at the right time. But we are engaged on a daily basis, multiple times a day, with Egyptian counterparts, Qatari counterparts, and, of course, Israeli counterparts, and, I have to say, others around the world.

I think if you just kind of look at the sequence from the President's speech on May 27, and then the diplomacy that he led with the endorsement from the G7 of this deal, first of all, getting the deal on the table, which the Israelis endorsed, that was a major effort and, I think, the product of probably half a dozen calls between the President and the Prime Minister, getting that deal on the table, and then the endorsement of the G7, and then working through the U.N. Security Council with Linda and her team, and then the endorsement from the President and his counterparts, who also have dual citizens held in Gaza.

So we have had a drumbeat of international support for this agreement. I think that has been quite important and quite effective.

And the agreement -- again, the President laid it out, and the onus was on Hamas to come back and accept this framework. And, effectively, that's now where we are.

So if you were to go back to the U.N. Security Council resolution, it lays out very clearly the three phases. It says, very clearly, subject to agreement between phase one and phase two. That has to happen. Because to get to phase two, which is the permanent ceasefire, you have to have conditions and arrangements in place. I think that is something that is obvious. That is something that Hamas has resisted. I think we now have that framework there.

But the immediate focus now is the implementation steps of phase one, to get into phase one. And that has to do with some sequencing and the release of detainees and, kind of, how it goes.

We, of course, went through this in November. This does feel similar to the kind of -- the end game of that process in which how will the hostages be released, what is the sequencing, what has to happen. And we were able to hammer that out. So that's what we're going to be working on now.

Again, I think as I characterize the call, it was detailed, constructive, encouraging, but very clear-eyed on the amount of work ahead. And we're going to do all we possibly can, through diplomacy, pressure, and other means, to get this deal closed.

MODERATOR: Next up we'll go to Akayla Gardner.

Q: Hey, I just wanted to ask if the President and Netanyahu talked about potentially meeting with (inaudible) in Washington later this month.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was mentioned. Obviously, the President is coming, and they have a lot to discuss face to face -- not only issues that were discussed here on this call, but we have, on the 15th, the Strategic Consultative Group, which will be our full national security teams talking about the range of issues in our relationship and particularly the threats that Israel faces from Iran and some activities we're seeing from Iran. That'll be a very detailed discussion between our national security teams on the 15th.

And then the following week, the Prime Minister will be here, and I just don't have anything to announce on that. But it was discussed, and I think it was discussed in a spirit of cooperation just given that this is a really critical moment in trying to get the hostages home, get the ceasefire in place, and also reach a deal in the north, as I mentioned.

So there's a lot -- a lot going on here. And as you know, the President, he believes in face-to-face engagements, and I think he'll try to find that opportunity.

MODERATOR: Next up we'll go to Michael Shear.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. Happy Fourth of July. Two questions. One on the -- you mentioned significant adjustments that you feel like Hamas has made that has led to this sort of optimism here. Can you be a little bit more specific about what those adjustments have been? What did they change from -- I can't even keep track -- but whatever the last time was where they seemed to reject the President's proposal?

And then I have one more after that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, without getting into the actual text, because I don't want to negotiate this in public, I think the Hamas position of kind of a one-phase deal that you do have a permanent ceasefire and, effectively, that means Hamas basically recovers in Gaza and retains power in Gaza and everything else, no matter what, that obviously was something that Israelis were never going to accept.

The three-phase deal with agreements having to be reached to get from phase one to phase two and phase three -- of course, it'll be hard. The U.S. -- we hope that this deal will be implemented in full, and we'll do everything we possibly can as a mediator and a guarantor to help ensure that.

But it's now clearly stated that you have to have, as was consistent with the U.N. Security Council resolution -- if you go back to that, it lays it all out -- it's subject to agreement; there has to be an agreement of the parties to reach from phase one to phase two. And there are arrangements that have to be worked out. I'm not going to get into details of all those arrangements, but I think there's a decent understanding now of what would have to happen.

And it is our hope and expectation that this deal would lead to a permanent ceasefire and the release of all hostages, alive and remains, and the beginning of a three- to five-year reconstruction plan, which begins in phase three.

But we have to have a framework in place to get to some of the implementation steps. I think as I mentioned, I think we believe that framework now is in place, but there's still more work to do.

Q: Thank you. And then, the other question really goes off of what you just said at the end. Do you envision that at some point in the days ahead, that there will be some announcement that you guys have reached an agreement -- you guys, Israel and Hamas and whoever all the parties, have reached an agreement and then you continue to work on this implementation stuff? Or is today that announcement? In other words, is it -- in other words, is there a two-step process here, or will we not know that, sort of, you've reached a deal here until, whatever, weeks later when the implementation stuff has been worked out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think that this deal is not done until everything is done. So, I don't think we announce, you know -- what I'm saying is that we've had a breakthrough on a critical impasse, what has been a critical impasse in the deal.

The framework of the deal is now fully consistent with the President's speech and the U.N. Security Council resolution. The implementation sequencing still needs to be worked out. So we literally have, you know, kind of columns of different issues in the sequencing of the implementation, because it's a complicated deal. This is a complicated arrangement. And as was the November deal -- of course, which was just a smaller deal -- this is a -- no pun intended, this is a big deal and in every respect, and so we want to get it right.

There are some gaps in that implementation and the sequencing and things, which we always knew had to be worked out, and I think both sides agree that has to be worked out. And that is why the Israelis will be sending their team.

I would anticipate over the coming days you will have problems and issues overcome, and hurdles -- that'll happen. But the process is moving now. And we consider what happened to be a breakthrough because it broke through what had been an impasse. And so, now we're on to the implementation steps. It will be tough and difficult, no question, but we're going to do everything we can to close this out.

MODERATOR: Next up we'll go to Hiba Nasr.

Q: Thank you, Eduardo. Thank you, [senior administration official]. And Happy Fourth.

I want to ask about Lebanon. Can you elaborate a little bit about the progress you were mentioning regarding -- not you on the call, but some leaks regarding the negotiations with Hezbollah and Lebanon? What kind of program? And how do you assess the likelihood of a broadening war now?

And my second question: Everyone knows that you are trying to avoid a second front, but you are in direct talks -- in indirect talks with Hezbollah. Strategically speaking, should you be able to break a deal with Hezbollah? Is it fair to say that you are now ready to deal with them as the ruler in Lebanon? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, there's a lot there. I will say what I think we've said on these calls in the past. I think it's worth stepping back -- and Hezbollah started this on October 8th. They decided, after October 7th, that was a good opportunity to start launching missiles and rockets and UAVs at Israel.

And so, this is something they started, and Israel was defending itself, and Israel will continue to defend itself and continue to strike back so long as that's going on.

As this has gone on, you've had 80,000 Israelis leave their homes in those northern villages, and you've had a significant number of Lebanese families leave their areas in southern Lebanon.

So this is a war nobody wants, and we want to find a way diplomatically -- which, again, was confirmed again on the call today -- and the Israelis also want to find a diplomatic arrangement which allows families to return safely to their homes. So this is just something that is a first principle of ours, and we fundamentally reject the logic that somehow what Hezbollah is doing is related to Gaza.

Now, if we do get a ceasefire in Gaza, as we saw in the November ceasefire, I think that opens up a real opportunity for de-escalation and reaching an enduring arrangement.

On your final question -- look, we want an agreement that provides security and assurances to civilians to return to their homes and believe that they will be safe. And we have worked for months on this. And, of course, Amos Hochstein has traveled to the region, had direct negotiations in Lebanon and in Israel.

But to your question, no, we're going to negotiate this as we've done the maritime boundary deal. Of course, as we did in, I think 2022 with a significant agreement, the first agreement ever between Lebanon and Israel, with our facilitation and mediation, two countries still technically in a state of war.

But to your question on whether we recognize Hezbollah: No, obviously we're not going to say that. We are working this out through the Lebanese, through the Israelis. But obviously, Hezbollah has to agree to the arrangements. And Amos and our team are working on this directly. We all have full confidence in them, as do the Israelis. And we're going to try to find an arrangement diplomatically, negotiated, that allows families to return to their homes.

If we can't, Israel will continue to defend itself against these attacks. And as we have said, we will stand by Israel on that, no question about it. And the President affirmed again today to the Prime Minister that when it comes to Israel's security against attacks by these Iranian-backed terrorist groups, you know, we got Israel's back.

MODERATOR: Last question will go to Barak Ravid.

Q: Hi. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. Two things. First, can you tell us what was the main message that the President gave Netanyahu during the call about the hostage deal? What was, like, the one-liner that was important for the President to convey during this call?

And the second thing: Are you concerned, like many in Israel, that Netanyahu is just playing a game here and we've tried to sabotage this deal for political survival reasons at last minute? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the mess- -- it was a review of where we have been, Barak. And the message being that it's time to bring this deal to closure. That's the message. And I have to say, same message received from the Israeli side.

But these are two leaders who understand the contours of the deal, who understand where the gaps are and recognize that there's a lot of work to get done. So, the President was encouraged. The Prime Minister is authorizing his team to reengage, because they have not been directly engaged in some time as we've been trying to work out a couple of the impasses in the framework I mentioned, but now we've overcome that. And we're going to do all we can to close this out. It's time to close this out because the lives of the hostages are on the line.

And of course, this deal, we think it is structured in a way that fully protects Israel's interests, is structured in a way that brings significant relief to the civilians of Gaza, as I outlined. And it's a well-crafted deal, and it's time to bring it to closure. And we believe there is an opportunity to do that. That is not entirely in the hands of the Israelis; that is also in the hands of the mediators -- Qatar, Egypt -- but also, of course, Hamas. And at the end of the day, as we've said repeatedly and consistently, if Hamas would release hostages, we have a way out of this crisis through a ceasefire and a three-phase deal.

And we think now there's a path open. And I thought the call today was quite constructive about what we want to do in the path forward. And we're going to do everything we can here over the coming period to bring this to close.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining. The embargo is now lifted. Thanks again for joining on a holiday. Talk to everyone soon.

3:00 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on President Biden's Call with Prime Minister Netanyahu Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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