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Transcript: National security adviser Jake Sullivan on "Face the Nation," Nov. 26, 2023

Sullivan: Hamas could release American hostage today
Hamas could release American hostage today, Jake Sullivan says 07:13

The following is a transcript of an interview with national security adviser Jake Sullivan that aired on Nov. 26, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Jake, good morning to you. Little Abigail Edan, the youngest US citizen hostage turned four years old while in captivity in Gaza this past week. She is one of three female US citizens who we expected to be released in this first phase of the deal that you helped work on here. Multiple sources indicate that Americans are on the list to be released today, including Abigail. Can you confirm that?

WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, we do have reason to believe that Americans will be released today, at least one American will be released today. I cannot confirm who it will be or that it will absolutely happen, because until we see that American out of Gaza, in safety and ultimately in the hands of their loved ones, we won't have full confirmation. And so we have been in close touch with the Israeli authorities, with Qatar, with Egypt. And we do have reason to believe that there will be an American released today. But let's wait and see what actually happens, because of course, we are dealing with a terrorist group here and we can't immediately trust. We have to verify. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. But as part of that diplomacy, this is that delicate exchange, Palestinian prisoners, aid going in. Are all those other pieces on track today?

SULLIVAN: Well, there continues to be quite a bit of intensity around the logistics of the delivery of humanitarian assistance. That humanitarian assistance is flowing, and has been flowing for several hours this morning. The Israelis have indicated the list of Palestinian prisoners they're prepared to release, so that should be on track. We have every reason to believe that this will come together again today, it has for the last two days. But implementation of something as intricate and complicated as this is difficult. And so, until we actually see it happen, we are going to remain cautious in what we say and that's why I'm not being more forward-leaning in indicating what's happening with an American citizen coming out today. We're going to stay cautious. We're going to stay focused on getting every element to this in place. And then when an American comes across that border and into safety, we can all celebrate together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I think everyone can agree with you that they're- they're hoping for- to see that as well, Jake. I know this first phase of the deal is focused on women and children. There are 10 Americans unaccounted for at this point. Do you anticipate this truce will be extended and that all the Americans, including the men, will come home?

SULLIVAN: I have every confidence that ultimately, all of the Americans and all of the individuals being held hostage will come home. We are determined not to rest until that happens. But whether or not this particular deal gets extended, that's really up to Hamas. Because Israel has been very clear as part of the deal. It is prepared to continue the pause in fighting for every day that Hamas produces an additional 10 hostages. So, the ball is in Hamas' court. If Hamas chooses on the fifth day and the sixth day and the seventh day, to continue to produce hostages, to return them to their loved ones, to return them to safety, then Israel is prepared to continue the pause in the fighting. If Hamas decides not to do it, the responsibility will request- will rest squarely on Hamas' shoulders. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your deputy, Jon Finer, was on Face the Nation last Sunday and told us Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding in the south of Gaza combat operations are planned for that area. But he said they should be held off until civilians are accounted for in Israel's military planning. Is the US satisfied with the assurances provided by Israel?

SULLIVAN: Well, really, this is about operations and not just about conversation. So, what the United States is hoping to see and frankly, what I believe Israel is hoping to see, is the conditions being set whereby any military action only takes place after civilians have been accounted for and have the opportunity to be in safety, to have access to humanitarian assistance, and to be out of the way of any military operation that is conducted. That's the conversation we're having with the Israelis right now. It's a constructive conversation and the details of it will remain behind closed doors. But the basic notion that continuing military operations should learn lessons from the north to be applied in any further undertakings. This is something that we have been discussing with the Israelis at length.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden was asked this past week about the call by some of his fellow Democrats to put conditions on military aid to Israel, and he said it was quote, "a worthwhile thought." What specific conditions are you considering putting on US aid?

SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, what the President actually said was, it's a worthwhile thought, but the approach that I've taken, I, Joe Biden have taken, has actually helped generate results. It has been high level, presidential diplomacy, deep, personal, and oftentimes private engagement--


MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Well he said it wouldn't have gotten us where we are now--

SULLIVAN: -- That has led to- a deep, personal, and private engagement that has led to a substantial and increasing amount of humanitarian assistance going into Gaza. Thousands of foreign nationals, including American citizens being able to depart safely from Gaza, a pause in the fighting for the first time since the conflict began, and a hostage deal that is bringing hostages home to their loved ones after 50 days. That has all been the result of what President Biden has described as the approach that he has taken in this conflict. And when he answered that question, he acknowledged the idea. But then he said in the same breath, that the approach that he has taken is what has been generating results. And we are seeing those results now day by day, as we see loved ones return to their families, a pause in the fighting, and a substantial surge in humanitarian assistance going in. That is all the result of American diplomacy that was not inevitable. And that, we believe, is what is continuing to generate outcomes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying that what the President was indicating was "No, there won't be any restrictions?"

SULLIVAN: No, we all saw what he said. He acknowledged the idea--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --So, there might be restrictions?--

SULLIVAN: --And then he said, but the approach I'm taking- Margaret, the President made clear in his comments that he thought the approach that he is taking is the approach that has generated the results that we have seen so far. And he is going to continue to engage in exactly that kind of diplomacy. In fact, he has a call setup for today with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I think you will see the United States continue to do what we have been doing, and particularly President Biden continue to do what he is doing, because that is what is generating results. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, because Senator Sanders has an op-ed in the New York Times making very specific demands in terms of restrictions on aid, saying there should be a freeze on settlement expansion in the West Bank, a commitment to a two-state solution. Are those reasonable things to require of the Israeli government before additional aid is handed over?

SULLIVAN: Nobody has been a stronger advocate for a two-state solution than President Joe Biden, who has been speaking about it publicly–


MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood and the Israeli - the current Israeli government has not been. 

SULLIVAN: –as well as privately. And as far as the President is concerned, this is the sine qua non of a lasting peace in the region. We need to see a two-state solution, Israelis and Palestinians in equal measures of freedom and dignity living side by side one another in peace. That is the President's vision, that is what he's going to work intensively towards, not just after the conflict, but starting now. And I think you will see him take a backseat to no one in terms of driving forward on that until we achieve that goal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think this is a moment for that diplomacy, given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said? Given what some members of his government have said?

SULLIVAN: We believe that this is absolutely a moment for us to be working with everyone in the region, the Israeli government, the Palestinians, the Arab countries, our European partners, others towards a two-state solution. And President Biden laid that out in detail in an op-ed that he wrote in The Washington Post not long ago. So the answer to your question is yes, we do think this is a moment for that kind of diplomacy. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake Sullivan, thank you for your time this morning.

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