Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
U.N. Calls for Limited Cease-Fire; First Hamas Reaction to U.N. Cease-Fire Plan; Israeli Reaction to Hamas; Obama Announces New Policies on Foreign Affairs
Aired July 16, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much.
Happening now, we're following breaking news. The United Nations proposes a limited cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, Brink of War.
BLITZER: Gaza grief -- four children killed on the beach by Israeli military fire, as the Palestinian death toll climbs. Even in the sky, we get an up-close look at the Israeli military's drone program and talk to the man making split second life and death decisions.
And President Obama -- he's about to make a major statement on the situation, the relationship with Russia. We're standing by to bring you that live when it happens. It will happen in the next few minutes.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting tonight from Jerusalem.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And the breaking news, very significant breaking news. The United Nations proposing what's being described as a limited -- limited humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas.
This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, The Brink of War.
Gaza grief -- four children killed on the beach. As the Israeli military fires, the Palestinian death toll continues to mount.
The goal of this temporary truce would be to allow what they're calling a humanitarian pause, to allow relief supplies to enter Gaza safely. Israeli officials tell CNN they're willing to sign on to the plan. And tonight, there's no official word yet from Hamas.
But in a few moments, I'll ask the organization's spokesman if they will accept this United Nations proposal. This will be the first official Hamas reaction to this U.N. plan.
Without a cease-fire, there's been no let-up in the nine day air war. We saw rockets from Gaza intercepted today by Israel's Iron Dome missiles.
Meantime, the death toll continues -- continues to climb. Palestinian health officials say 221 people in Gaza have died and almost 1,600 have been injured. One Israeli also is dead.
Among today's fatalities, four boys killed on a Gaza beach by Israeli fire.
We're covering all the with our correspondents across the region and our guests representing both sides in the conflict, along with the kind of expert analysis you will find only here on CNN.
Let's begin with our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.
He's joining us from Gaza City -- Ben says Israel is now -- Ben, Israel says it's investigating the killing of these four boys on the Gaza beach. Hamas says it's a war crime. Tell us what happened.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we understand is that this happened at about 4:00 in the afternoon.
But before I get to that, Wolf, we're hearing that more phone calls have been received by those areas that had received phone calls from the Israeli military yesterday, ordering them to leave those neighborhoods and go to Gaza City because shelling was a growing possibility there.
But as these four boys found out, even Gaza City is not safe.
WEDEMAN (voice-over): They were killed on the beach Wednesday afternoon when the Israeli military targeted Gaza's harbor. The four boys, Ismael, Zakaria, Ahed and Mohamed, were cousins from the extended Bakr family, ranging in age from nine to 11. They were rushed to Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, but it was too late.
An Israeli military spokesman says the incident is being carefully investigated and that preliminary results indicate, quote, "The target of the strike was Hamas terrorist operatives," end quote.
In just over an hour after their death, hundreds turned out for their funeral. Behind the angry chants, there is real grief.
WEDEMAN: Eleven-year-old Mohamed's mother convulsed with shattered disbelief.
"Why did he go to the beach and play for them to take him away from me?," she cries.
WEDEMAN: His blind father, Ramez, equally devastated. "I felt as if the world had come to an end when I heard the news," he tells me. "I wish I had died before hearing he was dead."
Of the more than 200 people killed in the last 10 days of Israeli bombardment, over 70 percent have been civilians, according to the United Nations. Around 40 of the dead are children.
"Were those four small boys firing rockets," Soufian (ph), a relative, asks?
"They went to the beach to play football."
The boys died on the sands of Gaza and in the sands of Gaza they were buried.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
WEDEMAN: And that five hour respite provided by the U.N. pause tomorrow, it's only five hours. The expectation is that after that comes to an end, Wolf, there could be an Israeli ground invasion.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Gaza for us.
We'll get back to you.
Let's get the official reaction now to this United Nations proposal.
Osama Hamdan is joining us on the phone right now.
He's a top spokesman for Hamas.
Mr. Hamdan, the Israelis say they will accept this temporary truce that the United Nations has put forward for humanitarian reasons.
Will Hamas accept it, as well?
OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Well, I have to say that we are appalled by the United Nations (INAUDIBLE) about this initiation and that there was (INAUDIBLE) points to be clarified within those options. And we are still waiting for some answers to give the final answer about that.
We are welcoming all the efforts to provide the humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.
But as you have said or mentioned a few moments ago, we have to be sure that the Israelis will not use that as a chance to prepare for the ground invasion, which they are -- which they are just trying to make happen as soon as they can.
BLITZER: So basically what you're saying is you're not yet ready to give an official response, whether you accept it, you don't accept it. You want more information.
Specifically, Mr. Hamdan, what are you looking for?
What questions do you need answered to agree, starting 10:00 a.m. local time tomorrow morning, to have this temporary humanitarian pause, stop the fighting between both sides?
HAMDAN: Well, we have under us (ph) an Israeli attack. We are in a war in which the Israelis have launched attacks against the Palestinians. It's normal to ask some questions, to have some information about what may happen and what is going to happen.
That doesn't mean the Palestinian resistance will reject or not. It means that we are putting that and we are asking some questions to make the proper decision, which they certainly have to help the Palestinians and to be for the benefit of the Palestinians. This is the basic principle which we are working on. We want such an initiative to be helpful for the Palestinians and give the Palestinian people a good chance to be -- to have the benefits of such initiative.
We did not answer yet. That doesn't mean that we don't have the right to ask some questions before the initiative time.
BLITZER: All right. So you say you want the questions answered. You're leaving open the possibility you will accept it.
I spoke earlier today to the Palestinian Authority adviser, Nabil Shaath. He's a man you know. He was in Ramallah.
And we had this exchange about your earlier decision to reject that Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire proposal.
Listen to this exchange with Nabil Shaath.
BLITZER: Did Hamas make a major blunder in rejecting that Egyptian proposed cease-fire?
NABIL SHAATH, FORMER PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we think Hamas should have accepted. We are supporting the Egyptian initiative and we want to get a stop to the spilling of blood and to the horrible, tragic war that is being waged on Gaza.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Did you make a mistake in not accepting that Egyptian cease- fire proposal, Mr. Hamdan?
HAMDAN: Well, it's very strange to hear that from Nabil Shaath, because today there was a declaration from (INAUDIBLE) saying that even Abu Mazen has no information or clue even about the initiative. So the initiative -- and (INAUDIBLE) published today, as you know, that this initiative was related through a (INAUDIBLE) call between Netanyahu and el-Sisi on Saturday.
So it was an Egyptian-Israeli arrangement. The Palestinians were not informed. They were not asked, not calling the resistance. Even Abu Mazen himself has no information about that.
So it's normal to say we did not receive that. We don't know about this, so how do we accept an initiative through the media?
This is the idea.
I think that saying something which is not (INAUDIBLE) from any Palestinian.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, he's been in Egypt all day today. He's been meeting with the new Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi. They seem to be pretty much on the same page, if you listen to Abu Mazen's advisers, including Saeb Erekat, who I've been speaking with the last few days. He wanted you to accept that cease-fire, as well.
HAMDAN: Everyone wants the cease-fire. No one is talking against having the cease-fire. But we want (INAUDIBLE) Israel which will protect our own people for a long time, to protect them from the Israeli military attacks, from the siege, from (INAUDIBLE) from creating hard conditions for our life. We want a cease-fire which can give the Palestinian people a chance to live peacefully and with dignity.
BLITZER: Mr. Hamdan, we'll check back with you tomorrow.
Let's see what happens, if your leadership decides to go ahead and accept this temporary -- temporary humanitarian cease-fire that's supposed to go into effect Thursday morning, 10:00 a.m. local time, here in the Middle East.
Osama Hamdan is a spokesman for Hamas.
Coming up, our live coverage continues. We're here in Jerusalem.
We'll get Israeli reaction to the breaking news. I'll speak to a spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, about this proposed U.N. temporary cease-fire.
And more breaking news. President Obama is about to announce U.S. -- new U.S. sanctions against Russia. He's about to go into the White House Briefing Room with a major statement. We'll have live coverage coming up.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM live from Jerusalem.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're coming to you live tonight from Jerusalem, where we're following the breaking news, the United Nations proposal for a temporary cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza. We're also awaiting right now a major statement from President Obama. You're looking at live pictures from the White House Briefing Room. He's expected to go in there fairly soon and announce major new sanctions against Russia.
We will, of course, bring that thank you you, his statement. If he takes questions from reporters, you'll hear it, as well.
So we've got a lot of news coming up.
But right now, let's bring in Mark Regev.
He's the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Regev, Mark, I'll call you, thanks very much for joining us.
MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: My pleasure.
BLITZER: You've accepted this temporary six-hour cease-fire, this humanitarian pause, as it's being called, put forward by the United Nations. It's supposed to start 10:00 am Thursday morning Israel time, is that right?
REGEV: That's correct. The United Nations approached us and we've agreed to their proposal, ultimately. And it must be clear, the people of Gaza are not our enemy. Our problem is with the terrorists, with Hamas and the others who shoot these rockets into Israel, trying to kill our people. The people of Gaza are not our enemy. And if we can help the United Nations facilitate distribution of humanitarian support, foodstuffs, medicines and so forth, we are part of that.
BLITZER: You just heard Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas, tell us in the interview we just conducted with him, they're still studying it, they've got questions that need to be answered before it's supposed to go into effect.
One of those questions they have is they don't want to give you six hours, from 10:00 am local time until 4:00 pm, the six hour truce, for you to regroup and get ready for a ground invasion of Gaza.
REGEV: That's ridiculous. And I think it just shows what Hamas is all about. Here the United Nations wants to help the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza, Israel is willing to facilitate that and Hamas, which claims to have the Palestinian people's interests at heart are saying no, or they are at least raising questions if they're willing to cooperate with the United Nations.
It's just like yesterday, when there was that Egyptian cease-fire proposal on the table, which would have ended all the conflict, would have ended all the violence, would have allowed us to deescalate and go into some sort of talks with the Egyptians. They said no to that, as well. Now, I think when Hamas claims to speak for the Palestinian people, people have to see it for what it is. Hamas is a brutal extremist organization that is willing to sacrifice the needs of the Palestinian people on the altar of its very radical agenda.
BLITZER: We saw those horrible pictures, a horrible incident on a beach in Gaza City today. Israeli fire came and killed these four little boys.
REGEV: We don't know exactly. And we're checking it out, because we don't target civilians. We don't target children. And there's obviously been a mistake. And the army is investigating itself. It's appointed a full general to conduct the investigation. We want to find out what happened, what went -- what went wrong.
BLITZER: Was this gunfire from a ship offshore?
Is that what happened?
REGEV: It's not clear exactly. But our rules of engagement are very clear. And I cannot believe that if it was an Israeli army personnel who shot that missile, that they knew that they were targeting civilians. I cannot believe that.
It must have been some sort of mistake.
And that's the ultimate difference between us, because Hamas randomly shoots into Israeli cities, trying to kill, indiscriminately, as many Israeli civilians as they can. We make a maximum effort -- and you see that with the leaflets we've been putting out -- to keep civilians out of combat zones, to make sure they're not caught in the crossfire between us and the terrorists.
BLITZER: But you see a lot of civilians, women, children, elderly, have been killed in these Israeli strikes.
REGEV: We don't want to see it. And we make a maximum effort to avoid that. And the truth is, the primary responsibility for the civilian toll on the Palestinian side is Hamas that said no to the cease-fire.
BLITZER: So what do you say to the family of those four little boys who were killed today?
REGEV: We say we didn't want this conflict in the first place. I mean, we share with them their grief. We understand that, because we've had grief on our side, as well. But we didn't want this conflict.
This conflict came because Hamas kept shooting rockets into Israel and we are forced to defend our people from those rockets.
BLITZER: If this six hour temporary cease-fire holds, are you open to letting it breathe a little bit longer and start those negotiations to keep a permanent cease-fire, open up Gaza, for example, to greater access to Israel, to Egypt, ease their restrictions in the Mediterranean, the blockade, if you will, speak about those prisoners, who you retook, who were freed in that Gilad Shalit swap, that Israeli soldier who was held by Hamas for five years?
Are you open to engaging in these kinds of discussions indirectly, through Egypt, presumably, with Hamas?
REGEV: If tomorrow's humanitarian corridor is successful, if Hamas doesn't stifle the effort, if it's a success and we --.
BLITZER: The six hours?
REGEV: The six hours. If that works and the U.N. comes up with more proposals like that, I'm sure we will consider them very favorably, because, ultimately, as I said, the people of Gaza are not our enemies.
As to moving forward, I mean, ultimately, Israel would like a very different relationship with Gaza. We pulled out of Gaza a few years ago. You were here and you reported the story. We took down all the settlements. We pulled back to the international frontier. We signed an agreement through the Americans, Condoleezza Rice, you remember, for movement and access, so we could have trade and cooperation and friendship.
Hamas spoiled all that. Hamas came to power in Gaza, and instead of investing in schools and in the betterment of the life and in the people of Gaza, has invested in rockets and missiles and hatred.
If Gaza was to change, if Gaza was to want to live with Israel in peace and coexistence, we would be very happy to have a good relationship with Gaza.
BLITZER: So just to be precise, at 10:00 am local time here in Israel, 10:00 am, you stop firing. Let's say they stop for the time being, but maybe there's an Islamic Jihad, some other group launches a rocket or two?
How patient will you be before you resume your attacks?
REGEV: We have committed to this six-hour timeout. Obviously, we will be watching the situation very closely. If Hamas makes the timeout impossible through military actions, I mean, that will -- that's a bad thing. We don't want them to do it.
BLITZER: What will you do?
REGEV: Well, I would -- without prejudging the situation, we can't allow Hamas to exploit the timeout to attack us.
BLITZER: Because they say that you're going to exploit that.
REGEV: No, no. That's just not true. That's ridiculous. We've committed to the U.N. and we'll be very -- I mean, we want this humanitarian mission to succeed. BLITZER: So you -- so you're speaking to Hamas right now and you're saying don't fire anything during these proposed six hours?
REGEV: We've said to the United Nations that we will facilitate a successful six-hour period for humanitarian support. And I hope Hamas doesn't interrupt this.
BLITZER: And, presumably, you hope that goes on longer than six hours.
If after those six hours, there's been no shelling from Hamas, no rockets coming into Israel, no Israeli airstrikes, will it just go on?
Or does the fighting after six hours, assuming it's quiet during those six hours, does that start again?
REGEV: I think we'll have to wait and see. But Hamas, yesterday, showed us who they are when they rejected the cease-fire. And even tonight, you couldn't get, Wolf, a straight answer from Hamas whether they'll honor this humanitarian bruit de quoi (ph).
Let's wait and see what Hamas does before we start, you know, putting the cart before the horse.
BLITZER: At least Hamas didn't reject it completely, as they did the initial Egyptian cease-fire proposal. They called it "a joke" on our program, as you probably remember.
REGEV: I remember.
BLITZER: This time Hamdan -- Osama Hamdan is at least saying they want to study it, they want some more questions answered. And we'll find out in the coming hours.
REGEV: Don't forget, Wolf, they're under a lot of pressure, because when they opposed that cease-fire yesterday, they didn't oppose Israel, and not just Egypt. The United Nations supported the cease proposal. The Arab League, the Palestinian government on the West Bank. They're very isolated today and they've got a problem.
BLITZER: Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, thanks very much for joining us.
REGEV: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
Coming up, more breaking news. President Obama about to make a major new statement. New U.S. sanctions being leveled against Russia. We're about to hear live from President Obama. He's getting ready to go into the White House Briefing Room.
Plus, we'll have a rare look inside Israel's drone operations. I'll talk to the man making some split second life and death decisions.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're live from Jerusalem.
BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem with the breaking news. The United Nations proposing a limited cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza.
We're also standing by to bring you live remarks from President Obama in the White House Briefing Room. He's expected to announce major new U.S. sanctions against Russia. When that happens, we'll go live to the White House to hear from the president. Stand by for that.
In the meantime, here in Jerusalem, we saw more rocket fire today firsthand, as we were heading to the Israeli city of Ashkelon. That's less than 10 miles from the Gaza border.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to get out. You can can hear the sirens.
BLITZER: You can hear those sirens now. We're waiting for the all clear.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: After we went and we saw the site where the rocket landed, the debris was still smoking. It was only about a hundred yards or so from where we were. Luckily, those fragments from that rocket landed in an open filed. But it was very close to a major intersection leading into Ashkelon.
CNN's Diana Magnay, she's with me here in Jerusalem right now.
You spent the last several days down there in Ashkelon, in Ashdod.
Give us a little sense, what do the Israelis there really want their government to do, stop the fighting or simply send the troops in on the ground and launch this ground invasion?
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they definitely want this bombardment to stop. So when Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, says we want a demilitarization of Gaza, then they're behind that.
But when you say, do you want ground troops to go in?, they'll always say we don't want our soldiers to die.
So, you know, the air strikes work for them for now. They don't want soldiers to go in. They don't want a kidnap situation, for example, like Gilad Shalit again, where he could be used as a bargaining chip by Hamas. BLITZER: The Israeli soldier...
BLITZER: -- who was held by Hamas for five years.
MAGNAY: Exactly. Exactly. And his release was a very, very complicated negotiation, but one that Israel did directly or indirectly, but really dealt with Hamas on that front.
People are very, very uncertain about a ground invasion because they know that, effectively, it will be a bloodbath.
BLITZER: I've been here for almost a week and no matter where you go, you know, that when you least expect it, you're going to hear that siren, you'll hear that boom, you'll hear that Israeli Iron Dome anti- missile system.
Walk us -- you've been here. Walk us through what really goes on.
MAGNAY: Well, when you see all of those intercepts above you, you feel pretty glad that that Iron Dome system is in place. I mean the U.S. has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into it. And I think Congress is about to give it a whole lot more.
But the radars basically see where the missile is coming from, where the rocket is coming from, and they manage to intercept it. The IDF says it's 90 percent effective. And, you know, we've seen that. The only casualty so far on the Israeli side was a volunteer up at Erez Crossing, at the top of the Gaza Strip. He was hit by a mortar shell.
No one inside the big cities has been hurt by rockets. And I've been in those major cities and I've seen so many intercepts, it does give you the sense that it's keeping you safe.
BLITZER: There have been some injuries, but no one except this one individual was killed inside Israel.
MAGNAY: Injuries. And there have been some direct hits on houses. We went to one in Ashkelon today and a -- the girl there said, you know, I went down to the safe room when I heard the siren. And thank God I did, because it hit my house.
And I think it's interesting, you see real discipline on the part of the Israelis, that they do, when they hear that siren, they do go to shelters, they do go to safe rooms. And the siren is also very effective at keeping people safe, as much as Iron Dome.
BLITZER: Diana Magnay, you'll be back with us.
Thanks very much.
Diana has been doing an excellent job here in Israel.
Coming up, we're live from Jerusalem. Split second life and death decisions -- we're about to get a look at an Israeli drone program that's used to try -- to try to prevent civilian casualties.
We're also standing by to hear the president of the United States. He's about to walk into the White House Briefing Room and make a major announcement on sanctions against Russia. When that happens, we'll go there live. We'll see if the president takes questions, as well.
Stay with us.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Breaking news live from Jerusalem -- a possible cease-fire only hour away. Israel has accepted a United Nations call for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow relief supplies to get into Gaza.
Hamas says it needs more information before giving an official response. You heard the statement from Hamas right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're also standing by to hear from the president of the United States, President Obama. He's about to go into the White House Briefing Room. He's expected to make a major new statement on U.S. sanctions against Russia. We'll see if he answers reporters' questions, as well as questions, presumably, coming up about the situation here in Israel and Gaza.
Let's get some more now on what's going on.
Joining us, our CNN Middle East analyst, Michael Oren. He's the former Israeli ambassador to the United States. He's joining us from Tel Aviv.
Also joining us, our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's joining us from Washington.
Let me get back, Ambassador Oren, to those four young little boys who were killed playing soccer or football on the beach in Gaza City.
We heard Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister, say the Israelis have now launched a major investigation to find out what has happened. A general is leading that investigation.
You served for many years in the Israeli military.
What do you suspect happened?
MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR: What happened?
That there was some mistake in coordinates or that a Hamas unit was firing in the vicinity. This happened during the previous rounds of fighting.
We're dealing -- Israel is dealing with an enemy who hides behind the civilian population. And they want to create a situation where Israel is firing and causes civilian casualties.
Hamas doesn't really have a military strategy as much as it has a media strategy, Wolf. They know they can't destroy Israel with their rockets. But they know they can destroy Israel's legitimacy in the world by creating a situation where Israel inflicts civilian casualties. And that leads to delegitimization in the media and perhaps in international organizations.
BLITZER: But as you know, you may not know this, but we've interviewed several international journalists, eyewitnesses, if you will, who were staying in a hotel right there, right near the beach. They didn't see any shooting coming from the Hamas side. They didn't know of any Hamas mortars or any launchers that were in the area.
They say the kids were just playing at a beach in Gaza City and they got -- they got themselves killed, these young little boys.
But hold on for a moment, Mr. Ambassador, before I let you respond to that.
OREN: There has to be an investigation -
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta is with us...
BLITZER: -- our chief national security correspondent -- Jim, the president about to walk into the Briefing Room and make a major statement, increasing sanctions against Russia.
Give us a quick little preview of what we're expecting.
JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Sure.
Well, earlier this afternoon, Wolf, senior administration officials said that the U.S. is imposing sanctions not on whole sectors of the Russian economy. The administration has said that might be coming.
But instead, this will be targeted at key portions of those sectors of the Russian economy, the banking, the energy and defense sectors of the economy. And that the White House has been saying and we expect the president to say that Russia has missed these opportunities to take a better path forward, to de-escalate this crisis, and because of that, these sanctions are coming down the pike.
Now, at the same time, we should point out that the president has many other foreign policy crises on his plate right now, the violence in Gaza, whether there will be a lasting cease-fire there. Also, there's been this question about Iran and its nuclear program. The major world powers have been working with Iran to form a comprehensive agreement within days from now. The White House has said there are gaps with that agreement.
In the meantime, there's also this (INAUDIBLE), the House and Germany over spying allegations. So we may hear the president talk about that, as well. Keep in mind, he's also been meeting with House Democrats all afternoon about the border crisis, with respect to those kids coming across the border.
So a lot on his plate. And we'll see what he talks about -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, a quick thought before the president walks in.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are significant sanctions, Wolf, against Russia, two of the biggest energy firms, two of the biggest banks. Just to give you an example, Gazprombank. That's for the largest gas company in Russia, with the largest gas reserves in the world. They claim -- just to give you a measure of that -- the current prime minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, used to be chairman of the board of Gazprom.
These companies now all blocked from the U.S. financial system. That has major economic costs for these companies.
The one weakness here is that Europe is not on board for these sanctions. That's something that the White House wanted.
BLITZER: So the president will make this statement.
Do we know, Jim, Jim Acosta, if the president will answer reporters' questions?
ACOSTA: We're not sure exactly whether or not the president is going to answer questions.
But as I just laid out a few moments ago, Wolf, he has a lot of questions to answer at this point. A lot of critics have been saying -- OK, back to you.
BLITZER: Here he comes.
Here's the president.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to briefly discuss the important actions we're taking today in support of Ukraine.
Before I do, I want to take a few minutes to update the American people on some pressing foreign policy challenges that I reviewed with Secretary Kerry this afternoon.
First of all, I thanked Secretary Kerry and our outstanding civilian and military leaders in Afghanistan for their success in helping to break the impasse over the presidential election there.
Thanks to their efforts, and, of course, thanks to the Afghans and the courage of the two candidates, both of whom I spoke to last week, the candidates have agreed to abide by the results of a comprehensive and internationally supervised audit that will review all the ballots and to form a unity government. If they keep their commitments, Afghanistan will witness the first Democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation. Progress will honor both candidates who have put the interests of a united Afghanistan first. The millions of Afghans who defied threats in order to vote and the service of our troops and civilians who have sacrificed so much.
This progress reminds us that even as our combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year, America's commitment to a sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan will endure along with our determination that Americans are never again threatened by terrorists inside of Afghanistan.
Second, John updated me on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Over the last six months Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year, halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its most dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.
Meanwhile, we are working with our P5 plus One partners and Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement that assures us that Iran's program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won't obtain a nuclear weapon.
Based on consultations with Secretary Kerry and my National Security Team it's clear to me that we've made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward, but as we approach a deadline of July 20th under the interim deal, there is still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do.
So over the next few days we'll continue consulting with Congress and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.
Third, we continue to support diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israel and Hamas. As I've said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people. There's no country on earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets, and I'm proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel developed and fund has saved many Israeli lives, but over the past two weeks we've all been heartbroken by the violence especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza. Men, women and children who are caught in the cross fire.
That's why we have been working with our partners in the region to pursue a cease-fire to protect civilians on both sides. Yesterday Israel did agree to a cease-fire, unfortunately, Hamas continued to fire rockets at civilians thereby prolonging the conflict, but the Israeli people and the Palestinian people don't want to live like this. They deserve to live in peace and security free from fear. And that's why we're going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire and we support Egypt's continued efforts to bring this about. Over the next 24 hours we'll continue to stay in close contact with
our friends and parties in the region and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire. In the meantime, we're going to continue to stress the need to protect civilians in Gaza and in Israel and to avoid further escalation.
Finally, given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia's largest companies and financial institutions. Along with our allies with whom I've been coordinating closely in the last several days and weeks I've repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine. That Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a cease-fire, that Russia needs to pursue internationally mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border.
I've made this clear directly to Mr. Putin, many of our European partners have made this clear directly to Mr. Putin. We have emphasized our preference to resolve this issue diplomatically, but that we have to see concrete actions and not just words that Russia, in fact, is committed to trying to end this conflict along the Russia- Ukraine border.
So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned. In fact, Russia's support for the separatists and violations of Ukraine's sovereignty has continued. On top of the sanctions we've already imposed we are therefore designating selected sectors of the Russian economy as eligible for sanctions. We're freezing the assets of several Russian defense companies and we are blocking new financing of some of Russia's most important banks and energy companies.
These sanctions are significant but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies. Now we are taking these actions in close consultation with our European allies. We're meeting in Brussels to agree on their next steps. And what we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.
Now meanwhile we're going to continue to stand with the Ukrainian people as they seek to determine their own future. Even in the midst of this crisis, they have made remarkable progress these past few months they held democratic elections. They elected a new president. They are pursuing important reforms and they signed a new association agreement with the European Union. And the United States will continue to offer our strong support to Ukraine to help stabilize its economy and defend its territorial integrity. Because like any people, Ukrainians deserve the right to forge their own destiny.
So in closing, I'll point out the obvious. We live in a complex world and at a challenging time. And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership, and as commander-in-chief I'm confident that if we stay patient and determined that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.
Thanks very much.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there's the president of the United States with an important statement on four foreign policy, major foreign policy issues. The situation in Afghanistan, Iran, nuclear talks, Israel and Hamas and Ukraine, U.S. relations with Russia.
Jim Sciutto, what did you think as far as the news value of what the president had to say?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think probably, you know, the understatement of the year the president calling it a complex world with all these crises that he's now currently dealing with. But news value, you know, a number of the things he said, one, on the Iran talks that are underway with this looming deadline on Saturday, July 20th, the president in effect telegraphing what they are really talking about now is not a long-term deal, but how long they extend the negotiations. He said that whether additional time is necessary to talk.
And that's what we have been hearing as well. The president seeming to confirm that. On Ukraine, the president -- we were looking back. It was on June 5th, Wolf, that the president said Russia had weeks, not months, to change its behavior in effect in Ukraine. That's about six weeks ago on the president saying here, Russia has failed in his words to take any of the steps to deescalate there, in fact escalating in many ways, and now the president following through with system of these sectorial sanctions.
That's certainly news worthy. And the president also underlying his support there for a diplomatic solution to what's happening in Gaza right now and he has dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry really in frenetic diplomatic activity. We know that just today Secretary Kerry speaking with the foreign ministers of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, of course the Israelis as well, working on what he says he wants to be a lasting cease-fire.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Jim. Jim Acosta is our White House correspondent.
Jim, take us a little bit behind the scenes right now. The motivation, it's not every day that the president of the United States decides on these four major foreign policy issues to go in and make a major statement along these lines.
Take us a little bit behind the scenes.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I can tell you, Wolf, that this is a president who I think wanted to take questions, but perhaps was thinking maybe he shouldn't take any questions because he's essentially watching several pots of boiling water all raging at the same time. The crises that Jim mentioned with respect to what's happening in Gaza and of course the complicated issues of dealing with Iran and Russia. The president really ticking off those crises one by one, those
problems one by one, in a way that you might expect him to take independently by taking questions from reporters. This is a president whose foreign policy is really under siege right now -- Wolf.
He is taking it on all fronts. And you've heard the president say time and again that -- you know, that perhaps more cautious approach is the approach to take with respect to these crises. That's why I think you heard the president indicate there that there might be some kind of, I guess, acceptance on his part to perhaps allow Iran to have more time to work out a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
And I think you also heard at the end there at the president's remarks that this is a complicated world that he's dealing with and I think that was a response that the president was trying to give to an anticipated question about all these crises blowing up basically at the same time on his watch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And he mentioned four, but there are a whole -- a whole lot more. This whole Middle East region --
BLITZER: -- basically is a flame right now.
Elise Labott, our foreign affairs reporter, can we anticipate the Secretary of State John Kerry heading towards where I am right now, the Middle East, to get involved in stopping the fighting between Israel and Hamas?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the secretary has been preparing a trip as we know talking with the ministers in Egypt and Qatar, in particular, both of whom have the relationship with a Hamas. This is what they want to put in place. They want to give Israel the assurances that if there is a cease fire that as the prime minister has said it will be lasting. That it won't give Hamas a time out to rearm and be able to attack Israel.
So this is what Secretary Kerry is going to be doing right now. It this isn't about dealing with Israel and what it could do. Israel says it's e ready to stand down when it's assured that that will happen.
BLITZER: Elise Labott, thanks very much.
Let's take a quick break. We have much more of the breaking news right after this from Jerusalem right after this.