'This Week' Transcript 12-3-23: White House NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and Sen. James Lankford
This is a rush transcript of “This Week” airing Sunday, December 3.
December 3, 2023, 9:41 AM
A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, December 3, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: mLet's bring in the top spokesman for White House National Security Council, John Kirby. John, thank you for joining us again this morning.
So, the ceasefire and hostage negotiations have collapsed. Is there anything going on behind the scenes to get them back on track?
JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Yes, sir. We're working at this literally by the hour at the National Security Council and all the way up the high levels of the administration to try to see hour by hour if we can get these discussions back going – going forward to see if we can get the pause back in place and get the hostages out.
But there’s a constant effort on the United States side to engage with our allies and partners to do exactly that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like both Israel and Hamas have given up on it.
KIRBY: Well, for now, neither side is willing to come back to the table. And I think it’s important to remember, George, how this fell apart. It fell apart because Hamas was unwilling and refused to come up with additional lists of women and children, which we know they are holding, and put them on the list so that Israel could evaluate that and we could get – and we could get them exchanged.
I do want to say one thing that hasn't stopped, and that is the humanitarian assistance going into Gaza. Now, the pause allowed us to increase that level. We are working with the Israelis to see if we can keep it at that increased level that we achieved over the last week continuing to go in. Food, water, medicine, and even fuel continues to get into Gaza.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What exactly do we know about how many hostages remain, particularly Americans?
KIRBY: Well, particularly on Americans, we think the number is about eight. We don't have perfect visibility on where they all are. We certainly don't have perfect visibility on their – on their physical or mental condition. We're trying to do that as best we can, but it's about eight. And now we also believe that the total population left is somewhere in the neighborhood of about 140.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've seen those warnings from Vice President Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about civilian casualties. Any sense that Israel is heeding those warnings?
KIRBY: Yes, sir. We believe that they have been receptive to our messages here in terms of trying to minimalize civilian casualties. And I would tell you, we saw that as they went into north Gaza. They did in a more precise way, a smaller way. And just in the last 24, 48 hours, George, they published online a map of – of places where people could go to avoid combat, and where they could go — where they could find safety from combat. There's not a whole lot of modern militaries that would do that. I mean that – that — you know, so, to telegraph their punches in that way. So, they are making an effort.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Israel has ordered the evacuation of the south, as you've said. And there do seem to be increasing signs of a ground invasion. Is that what you expect at this point?
KIRBY: Well, I won’t get ahead of the Israelis. The Israeli Defense Forces. They’ve go to speak to their military operations. And I certainly would say nothing on TV that would – that would violate their operational security. But, again, we've urged them to, as they go south, we’ve said – we’ve said publicly, we don't want to see them moving into the south unless or until they have accounted for that additional now civilian population because they move folks out of the north into the south, hundreds of thousands of them. We want to make sure that they're properly accounted for.
And again, them publishing this map online and dropping leaflets and informing people of where not to go, I mean that is a step in the right direction.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the end game look like here? Is there a – in the end, is there a diplomatic solution that is still possible? Is the two-state solution still viable?
KIRBY: The president still believes in the power of a two-state solution, George. He still believes that we’ve got to have a independent state for the Palestinians people that they can live in peace and justice and security. He's not giving up on that effort. And we’re going to – we’re going to continue, as an administration, to continue to pursue that.
Now, look, part of that means that you’ve got to have an informed and revitalized Palestinian Authority. Whoever governance looks like I Gaza, George, it's got to be responsive to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and it has to be representative of them. Right now the Palestinian Authority doesn't have that credibility. So, what we want to see is a reformed PA, a revitalized Palestinian Authority that can – that can have a voice and some measure of control over governance in Gaza.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Though Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have ruled that out, having the PA oversee Gaza.
KIRBY: What he said was right now you've got an unreformed PA. And that that – that’s unacceptable to him. I would tell you that's unacceptable to us too. We don't believe the PA is in a position right now to be in – a credible control of governance in Gaza. But whatever it looks like, and I'm not saying it has to be just the Palestinian Authority. We think that they should have a role, certainly. Whatever it looks like, though, George, it's got to be responsive and representative of the Palestinian people, and certainly Hamas is not that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator James Lankford is coming up. He's in the middle of these negotiations over aid to Israel and Ukraine. He wants to tie them to border security. Will the president accept a package tied to border security, and what are the consequences if no deal is reached by the end of the year?
KIRBY: I won't get ahead of the president's decision-making, George.
I’ll tell you in that supplemental request that we put forward — yep, there's money for Ukraine which we desperately need. There's money for Israel. There’s also money for border security.
On day one of this administration, he put forward an immigration reform plan that has yet be — to be acted on. Congress basically ignored it.
If they're serious about immigration reform, they ought to take that proposal up by the president. They also ought to pass our supplemental request, all four of the major buckets in there, which also includes money for the Indo-Pacific, is important to our national security. We urge Congress to act on all of that immediately.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, this blockbuster “New York Times” report coming out — coming into the weekend that Israel failed to heed intelligence about an attack by Hamas. What more have we learned about that? Did the United States have any advanced warning at all? Should we have?
KIRBY: Our intelligence community is taking a look into that. And right now, George, they have no indications that we, the United States intelligence community, had any knowledge of that document beforehand or any visibility into it.
Now, look, Israel — they've already talked about this. President Netanyahu has said that there's obviously been some failures in the intelligence world when it came to October 7th. They're going to take a look at this.
They'll do the forensics. They'll do that and they’ll do it thoroughly. But right now, certainly on intelligence, the focus has got to be on making sure that Israel has what it needs to go after Hamas leadership.
They are taking out the leadership one by one, sometimes in small groups, but they are going after them. And we want to see that — we want to see that progress continue, and that's really what the focus has got to be on right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. John Kirby, thanks very much for your time this morning.
KIRBY: Yes, sir.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in now the Israel minister of strategic affairs, Ron Dermer.
Mr. Dermer, thank you for joining us this morning.
Let's begin with that intelligence report.
RON DERMER, ISRAELI MINISTER OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Good to be with you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you for joining us.
Did Prime Minister Netanyahu see any of this intelligence warning of a Hamas attack?
DERMER: Not that I’m aware of. I think the report that you're talking about is the “New York Times” report which dated it back over a year. So the prime minister wasn't prime minister at the time. It was — it was a previous administration, but I don't know if they saw it.
And frankly, George, all these questions, we're going to have to get to the bottom of it. After the war, we're going to have a serious investigation. That's what Israel does, and we'll be able to answer all these questions.
But the first time I saw that report was when it was published in “The New York Times.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why wait until the end of the war? It seems like this war is going to be going on for some time.
DERMER: Well, because I think it's very important during a war to unite all the forces to achieve a common goal which we all have, which is to dismantle Hamas' military capabilities, to end its political rule in Gaza, and to ensure that Gaza doesn't represent a threat to Israel, and also to return the hostages.
And I want to use this opportunity, George, also to thank the Biden administration, President Biden, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and also your CIA Director Bill Burns for the efforts that they put into ensuring this hostage deal would happen and we were able to bring 80 women and children home.
And I think that's quite an achievement, and I don't know if it would have happened to this extent without the direct engagement of the United States, starting with the president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Any hope for getting those talks started again?
DERMER: We'll have to see. I think right now, as you know, a couple of days ago, Hamas did not put forward a list. There are women and children that have been left behind in Gaza. They're claiming that they're not there, but they are there.
We know they're there. America knows they're there. Even the Qataris know they're there. And they decided to not finish this deal, and perhaps move to another deal.
What we know is that the thing that brings Hamas to the table and its willingness — and its willingness to make a deal is military pressure, and that military pressure continued on Friday and it will continue in the days and weeks ahead. And then we'll are to see if there will be open-mindedness on the part of Hamas to make further deals.
But, remember, we're going to achieve our military objective which is to dismantle Hamas' military capabilities in Gaza, to end its rule there. That's going to happen, and hopefully, we'll be able to bring all of our hostages home as well.
And you have eight hostages I think in Gaza still, Americans. There are people of many, many different nationalities, but we're trying to get everybody home.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How close are you to that goal of eliminating Hamas as a military threat?
DERMER: Well, we still have some ways to go. We operated largely in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. We're still operating in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
And we've told people in the southern part of the Gaza Strip to start getting out of harm's way. As Mr. Kirby said, we've — we presented a map of where there's safe places for them to go. We hope they'll listen.
When we went into the northern part of the Gaza Strip with the ground operation, many, many people left the areas of conflict — 200,000, 250,000, 300,000 people went south, and that was very good.
And as we're operating in the north, we, again, encourage everybody to get out of harm's way. We've provided these humanitarian safe corridors for people to go, and now that they have this map and we're calling on people to make sure that they're getting out of harm's way.
We don’t want to harm Palestinian civilians and we’re working very hard to achieve that goal. And here too, we appreciate the support of the United States, not just in helping us deal with the aid agencies within Gaza, the U.N. agencies within Gaza to ensure that there would be safe areas, but also for humanitarian assistance because it's not just Israel that has to ensure and enable humanitarian assistance to flow, there’s Egypt, there’s other international organizations there. And here U.S. support has been critical as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Despite those calls, the civilian casualties continue to climb. We saw that UNICEF director there in Tom Soufi Burridge's piece. And we heard Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin say that if that continues, this could be not only humanitarian disaster, but a strategic calamity for Israel.
DERMER: Well, listen, we're doing everything we can to keep civilians out of harm's way. I want the American people to understand this. This war is not going on thousands of miles away. It's going on literally hundreds of yards away. And it’s going on at a time when rockets are flying into our country and we have people running to bomb shelters.
I think what the Israeli army has done in – in prosecuting this war is unprecedented in the history of warfare. When you have an enemy right on your border, and you're doing everything to get the civilians of that enemy out of harm's way. I don't think any other country, including the United States — I don't know if you ever faced a situation like this — would take such great care.
So, we agree with the United States that we want to do everything we can to reduce civilian casualties and to ramp up humanitarian assistance, and we'll continue to do that as we prosecute this war.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you the same question I asked John Kirby, what is the diplomat end game here? Does Prime Minister Netanyahu agree with President Biden that a two-state solution is still viable?
DERMER: Well, what the prime minister has said for many years, and you've interviewed him over the years, is that we want the Palestinians to have all the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers that they can use to threaten Israel. And that's something, when we get back to negotiations, we'll have to see how we do that. I know that everybody is racing forward right now to try to establish a Palestinian state. For the people of Israel, they don't even understand that because we just suffered the equivalent of 20 9/11s. And I think the last thing you want to do is send a message to any terror group that the way you’re going to achieve some sort of aim is to perpetrate a massive terror attack.
I think right now what we have to focus on is destroying Hamas, we have to get rid of this terror organization, this ruthless, brutal terror organization within Gaza. I think that's going to present many different opportunities. It's going to enhance Israel's security. It's going to be very good for the Palestinians of Gaza because they're not going to have to go through round after round. And I think it's going to open the door to a regional piece.
And in the context of that regional piece, we'll have to figure out how we can put ourselves on a path towards an ultimate political settlement with the Palestinians. That's when everybody wants and I think we can get there. But the first thing we have to do is destroy Hamas, which is not interested in any peace, any two-state solution. They just want to destroy the state of Israel.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How long is that going to take? Is it really possible?
DERMER: It is definitely possible. I think we've shown over – remember, we've only been fighting for less than two months, and we just had a pause for about a week. We're going to achieve this goal. We're going to do it in the deliberate fashion because we are very conscious of having civilians there and getting them out of harm's way. If we want to do it fast, we'd harm a lot more civilians.
We're going to achieve that goal. I don't know how long it's going to take. I don't know if it's weeks. I don’t know if it’s going to be months. But it's going to take as long as it's going to take because we're not going to allow what happened on October 7th to happen again. We're going to rid Gaza of this organization, this terror organization, Hamas, free Gaza from Hamas and hopefully that will give hope to Palestinians, to Israelis, to everybody in the region who wants to go in a different direction.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ron Dermer, thanks for your time this morning.News Related