Transcript: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on "Face the Nation," June 9, 2024


The following is a transcript of an interview with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Face the Nation” that aired on June 9, 2024.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin with President Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who joins us from Paris. Jake, it’s good to have you back with us. I wonder, can all of the hostages be rescued in these operations like we saw carried out successfully in Gaza yesterday? Or do you need to get back to the negotiating table?

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JAKE SULLIVAN: Look Margaret, by far the most effective, certain and right way to get all of the hostages out is to get a comprehensive cease fire and hostage deal that President Biden described in public a few days ago, that Israel has accepted, and now that we are awaiting Hamas to respond to. If Hamas would say yes to that deal, there would be a ceasefire in place, hostages would be coming home, more humanitarian aid would be surging in, and a better day for the Palestinian people would be- would begin to unfold. So what we would like to see is for that deal to get into place, because it is the surest way to get the hostages home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake, I know the US provided intelligence support to this military operation. Are you at all concerned that it will imperil the chances at that diplomatic agreement? And- and is there an expiration date by which Yahya Sinwar has to respond to this offer?

JAKE SULLIVAN: It’s a fair question, Margaret, what will Hamas do in terms of its calculus on this deal following this operation. And I, of course, cannot put myself in the head of a Hamas terrorist. But the fact is that the whole world is looking to Hamas to say yes, because for all those people, for all these months who have been calling for a ceasefire, now is the moment. There could be a ceasefire tomorrow, today even, if Hamas would say yes to the deal. So from our perspective, the world needs to continue to reinforce that message quite clearly and strongly. We have not gotten an official respond yet- response yet from Hamas. We’re waiting for one. We’re waiting to hear from the Qataris and the Egyptians who are the mediators in communication with them, and we will continue to reinforce the message take the deal until we get that answer.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake, I was looking back at remarks you made on this program just a week after that horrific attack on Israel on October 7, and even in the early days, you were pressing the Israeli government for a clear plan on what they will do in Gaza the day after the war ends. Has Netanyahu accepted any of the US proposals or suggestions? Has he presented any of it to his own war cabinet?

JAKE SULLIVAN: We do have a detailed discussion with our Israeli counterparts about the day after. But we also have been clear, as you said, from the very beginning, that a military strategy to defeat a terrorist group has got to be connected to a political and humanitarian strategy and a logical strategic endgame. And too often over the course of this conflict, we have not seen that clear connection, and we have continued to reinforce the need for Israel to bear down, to ensure that it has a holistic strategy to ensure the enduring defeat of Hamas and to ensure a better day of peace and stability for Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s something we will continue to talk to them about every day. It’s something that the President talks about directly with the Prime Minister, and it’s something frankly, that we have hard won experience about that we can share from our own efforts dealing with terrorist organizations in entrenched insurgencies in other parts of the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like no- no agreement on that as- as yet. Do you expect to have one by the time the Israeli prime minister comes to address Congress next month?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, my hope is that by the time the Israeli prime minister comes to address Congress, which will be near the end of July, that we will have in place this cease fire and hostage deal. We will be building towards a future in which Israel is secure, the Palestinian people have a future of freedom and dignity and self determination, Israel is integrated into the region with better relations with its Arab neighbors, and the region overall is more stable and secure, which is deeply in America’s interests. All of that, Margaret, is not just fanciful. All of that is available as the steps that could follow a deal getting into place, and a deal, as I said, could get into place as soon as this very hour of Hamas would just come say yes. That would be the starting gun to a better future for everyone in the region and for the full securing of America’s vital interests and a reflection of our values.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden gave an interview to Time magazine that was published this past week, and he was asked whether he’s seen evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza. He said “the answer is it’s uncertain and has been investigated by the Israelis themselves.” He dismissed the idea Israel was starving people as part of its war strategy. But he also said, “I think they’ve engaged in activity that is inappropriate.” What would you say is inappropriate?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, actually, Margaret, a couple of weeks ago, the State Department put out a comprehensive report that didn’t just speak in generalities, it went into specific incidents that raised real concerns–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –And it was inconclusive, which is what the Secretary of State said on this program at that time.

JAKE SULLIVAN: — Right, and it’s exactly what the President said as well when he was asked the question. We do not have enough information to reach definitive conclusions about particular incidents or to make legal determinations, but we do have enough information to have concern- more than concern, our hearts break about the loss of innocent Palestinian life. The President himself has said publicly that Palestinians, innocent Palestinians, are going through sheer hell in this conflict, and a lot of that is because Hamas has put them in an impossible situation. Hamas hides among the civilian population, holds hostages among the civilian population, fires at the IDF from behind the civilian population. And so yes, we have asked Israel to take steps to be more precise and targeted in its military operations. But there is only one answer to all of this, and it’s the answer I keep coming back to, which is a ceasefire and hostage deal that would end the suffering, end the conflict, end the war, and bring all of the hostages home. That is what President Biden has advocated for vigorously and relentlessly over the past many days. The G7 has called for it. Our Arab partners have called for it. Even the United Nations is stepping up to call for it. So it’s time for Hamas to come to the table, say yes, and let’s end all of the suffering that is taking place in Gaza right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes, but of all those who have endorsed the idea of an end to the war through these negotiations, Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you know, has not publicly said that he endorses it. When Prime Minister comes to the US to address Congress, will he meet with President Biden?

JAKE SULLIVAN: I don’t have anything to announce today, and as you know, the schedulers run the White House, so I’m not in a position to be able to announce in advance visits like that. He’s coming to address the Congress. The President talks to him all the time, has a regular communication with him. Will continue to have a regular communication with him. And if we have anything to share on that front, we’ll be sure to share.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll be watching, since we know there is tension there. I want to ask you, since you’re in Europe, I know you’ll be spending a fair amount of time there. This month, the President recently approved allowing Ukraine to use US- provided weapons to fire across the Russian border, a restricted area, but still a new policy choice here. Has that made a difference on the battlefield?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, I make it a practice to let the Ukrainians speak for themselves about their military operations and the impact of them. What I will just say is this, from the President’s perspective, this was common sense. What was happening up around Kharkiv, which was new just in the last couple of months, was a Russian offensive where they were moving from one side of the border directly to the other side of the border, and it simply didn’t make sense not to allow the Ukrainians to fire across that border, to hit Russian guns and emplacements that were firing at the Ukrainians. So the President authorized that. The Ukrainians have carried out that authorization on the battlefield. And one thing I will point out is that the momentum of that operation in Kharkiv has stalled out. Now, Kharkiv is still under threat, but the Russians have not been able to make material progress on the ground in recent days in that area, and the United States will continue to support Ukraine in holding the line and pushing back against the aggressing Russian forces.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you know, Vladimir Putin said in response to that that he that Russia has the option to arm Western adversaries. In response, one of your top aides here in Washington on Friday gave a pretty notable speech, Jake, in which he said the US may- may need to soon increase its stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons, given the expanding arsenals of America’s adversaries. Have you seen evidence that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are sharing nuclear technology at this point, and what would trigger President Biden to make that decision?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, I can’t speak to intelligence matters, especially highly sensitive intelligence matters relative to nuclear capability. But what I can say is that we are concerned. We are concerned about cooperation among the countries you just mentioned, and we are concerned about the advancing nuclear arsenals of countries like China and Russia, as well as North Korea. This is something that we are focused on. We are looking hard at, and we will consult with our allies and partners on the best way forward to ensure a safe, reliable and credible nuclear deterrent by the United States. We’ve taken no decisions. We will monitor the situation closely, and we will also listen to bipartisan calls, including from a recent commission of experts that have asked us to at least keep on the table the possibility that you just described.  It’s something that we’ll make determinations about in the months and years ahead.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this because China has brushed off your attempts at Arms Control?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well actually, Margaret, in the last few months China has showed a greater willingness, not a lower willingness to engage with us on questions related to proliferation and arms control. Those are nascent conversations. They’re nothing like the kinds of intense arms control negotiations that we had with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War or Russia in the post-Cold War era, but it’s the beginning of a dialog, and we will continue down that track at the same time that we ensure we have a credible nuclear deterrent so that the United States is secure and all of our allies are secure as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake Sullivan, thank you very much for joining us from Paris.

JAKE SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.



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