The following is a transcript of an interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer that aired on Nov. 19, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer. Good morning.
WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JON FINER: Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I do know hostage diplomacy is extraordinarily delicate. We’ve been near an enormous breakthrough earlier than after which fallen aside. But this morning, Qatar’s Prime Minister says we’re shut sufficient to achieve a deal. And the variations are simply logistical at this level. Does the US share that evaluation?
FINER: Look, Margaret, now we have been following this hour by hour, actually minute by minute for a variety of weeks now. This is a very excessive precedence for everybody in our administration, as much as and together with the President who’s personally engaged on this problem. What I can say at this level is we share the evaluation that many areas of distinction that previous- beforehand existed have been narrowed, that we consider we’re nearer than now we have been to reaching a last settlement, however that on a problem as delicate as this and as difficult is that this, the mantra that nothing is agreed till all the pieces is agreed actually does apply. And we don’t but have an settlement in place. And so till that’s the case, you understand, we’re not going to put out all the main points in public. We’re going to proceed working this immediately and intensively behind the scenes with the purpose of getting as many of those folks dwelling together with the Americans, who’re held hostage there as we can- as quickly as we will.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So Israel’s Prime Minister stated on CBS lately that they’d intelligence indicating that there have been hostages at Al-Shifa hospital, however none had been discovered. There had been two our bodies discovered close by. Did the U.S. share the evaluation that hostages had been being held at- on the hospital as a result of there was a launch suggesting that, from declassified intelligence the US shared. Was the US evaluation incorrect?
FINER: So what I’m going to let you know is what now we have put out when it comes to intelligence that now we have been capable of share and that we have been capable of downgrade on Al-Shifa. And, look, this can be a microcosm of the challenges related to this complete battle, as a result of that is clearly a hospital the place there are sufferers who had been being handled, essentially the most superior hospital in Gaza, additionally a spot the place harmless civilians who’ve gathered through the course this battle and all of these harmless lives are sacred to us, or equal in worth to lives anyplace which can be harmless. We’ve additionally stated and been fairly clear that now we have intelligence info, not simply Israeli intelligence, however American intelligence that Hamas has used this facility to construct terrorist infrastructure, to do command and management for fight operations. And we have been fairly clear about that. But we have additionally stated that none of that authorizes, in our view, direct navy strikes from the air or on the bottom towards that hospital. So that’s the difficult knot that the Israeli Defense Forces discover themselves in and that’s how we’re advising them to proceed at this level.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. The downgraded evaluation shared by the White House stated the U.S. believes that there might be, in Al-Shifa Hospital, a command node and tunnels beneath and that previously, these hospitals have been used to carry hostages. That’s why I used to be asking you, since none had been discovered there, if the US truly thought there could be hostages there. There has been–
FINER: — One factor I’d say about that, Margaret, is- is that that facility remains to be being exploited by the Israeli Defense Forces. I anticipate you may see extra info within the coming days, I feel we really feel assured within the info that we have put out. And let’s examine what their investigation reveals and the place it leads.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Do you may have a way that you’re operating out of time?
FINER: I’m sorry?
MARGARET BRENNAN: On the hostages, do you may have a way that you’re operating out of time to maintain this diplomacy going?
FINER: You know, each minute, each hour, every single day that these folks spend within the scenario is just too lengthy. So, it’s not acceptable that they’ve been held so long as they’ve; that is actually an unconscionable act by Hamas. And so that’s the reason it’s our precedence not simply to get them out in some unspecified time in the future, however to get them out, completely as quickly as doable. Obviously, Gaza is an especially harmful place to be- to be a civilian- to be a hostage held at this level. And so there’s a time crucial I would not use the- the phrase operating out of time, however we really feel acutely that this needs to be achieved as quickly as doable. And we’re placing stress on- on the diplomacy to attempt to get this achieved.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Israel’s Prime Minister was on this community this week and informed my colleague Norah O’Donnell, that they’re attempting to trigger minimal civilian casualties, however “unfortunately, we’re not successful.” Given that acknowledgement by Israel, I ponder if the administration is making use of the Leahy Act right here that may permit for the United States to limit some navy gear based mostly on human rights foundation. Is Israel exempt from that, given what’s occurred and what Israel is acknowledging? Do you could change that?
FINER: So, I’m not going to get into authorized determinations in public and on this dialog just isn’t actually my function. No nations are clearly exempt from legal guidelines of armed battle or from the U.S. statutory restrictions, however past that, I’m not going to say extra. What I’ll say, although is- is, now we have been fairly clear that Israel has each proper to defend itself towards the menace that it faces. That contains, by the way in which, the suitable to go after Hamas management, who they are saying now have fled to the southern a part of Gaza and have sought refuge there. So within the – within the occasion that we consider that Israel is prone to to embark on fight operations, together with within the south, we consider each that they’ve the suitable to try this, however that there’s a actual concern, as a result of lots of of 1000’s of residents of Gaza have fled now from the north to the south at Israel’s request. And we predict that their operations mustn’t go ahead till these people- these further civilians have been accounted for in their- of their navy planning. And so we can be conveying that on to them and have been conveying that on to them. They ought to draw classes from how the operation proceeded within the North, together with classes that result in higher and enhanced protections for civilian life issues like narrowing the realm of- of lively fight, clarifying the place civilians can search refuge from the combating. But I may even reiterate that Hamas takes no such precautions in actual fact, overtly and wantonly flouts and nearly brags about its want to perpetrate battle crimes. And so that is an adversary that doesn’t maintain itself to the usual that we and others consider is important.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Hamas is extraordinarily brutal. I need to shortly ask you about President Biden’s op ed that he revealed in The Washington Post. He stated the US is ready to problem visa bans towards extremists. He was referring to Israeli settlers transferring into the West Bank. Does that menace have tooth provided that there are estimates that American residents make up as a lot as 15% of the settler inhabitants?
FINER: Look, the President has been extraordinarily clear, I feel far past even what a lot of his predecessors stated about our considerations about developments on the West Bank, and particularly, our considerations about violence perpetrated towards harmless Palestinians by excessive settlers. He stated that in public speeches. He stated that in an op-ed that was revealed simply this weekend. And as he indicated, and as we are actually transferring to operationalize that would embrace penalties that the US would impose on folks related to violence towards innocents within the West Bank, together with a ban on them having the ability to journey to the United States on visas. And we’re transferring in that path, and we’ll have extra to say about that, I’m positive within the coming days.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that may be a authorities coverage problem, slightly than, you understand, simply the settlers, I assume, is my level there. The final time you had been right here, you talked concerning the Palestinian Authority, having achieved a reasonably good job at sustaining management within the West Bank, given the safety menace. The president stated the Palestinians Authority must be revitalized to control the West Bank and Gaza after Hamas. Does that imply they should maintain elections-like who truly runs the Palestinian Authority? The president is eighty-eight years outdated.
FINER: So the Palestinian Authority, all through this era of disaster since October 7, has continued to work to supply safety within the West Bank has continued to cooperate with Israeli protection forces on the supply of safety, together with, though, they’re beneath unbelievable stress inside their very own communities uh not to try this, fairly candidly. And so our view is the Palestinian Authority is the one official institutional consultant of the Palestinian folks within the West Bank. That it should be a part of any method ahead relating to governance, each in Gaza and the West Bank. And the President spoke about this publicly and in his op-ed as nicely, that it’s going to want further assist so as to have the ability to have the potential and the capability to try this essential work. But there’s additionally a legitimacy problem related to the Palestinian Authority and we are going to work with them immediately on enhancing their legitimacy, enhancing their capability to have the ability to play this essential function going ahead.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Jon Finer, thanks very a lot on your time this morning.