"Exclusive Interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer: Unveiling Critical Insights on "Face the Nation" - November 19, 2023"

The following is a transcript of an interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer that aired on Nov. 19, 2023.

"Exclusive Interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer: Unveiling Critical Insights on "Face the Nation" - November 19, 2023"
19 Nov 2023, 04:51 PM
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Interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer

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.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I know hostage diplomacy is extremely delicate. We've been close to a big breakthrough before and then fallen apart. But this morning, Qatar's Prime Minister says we are close enough to reach a deal. And the differences are just logistical at this point. Does the US share that assessment?

The administration has been closely monitoring the situation for weeks now and it is a top priority for everyone, including the President. While progress has been made in narrowing the areas of difference, we have not yet reached a final agreement. Given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue, we believe that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Therefore, we will not disclose all the details publicly until we have an agreement in place. Our focus is on working behind the scenes to bring as many people, including American hostages, home as soon as possible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Prime Minister of Israel recently stated on CBS that there was intelligence suggesting hostages at Al-Shifa hospital, but none were found. The US had also released declassified intelligence supporting this claim. Was the US assessment incorrect?

FINER: The information we have shared and downgraded on Al-Shifa is a reflection of the challenges we face in this conflict. The hospital is a place where patients are treated, and innocent civilians seek refuge. We have intelligence that Hamas has used this facility for terrorist activities, but that does not justify military strikes on the hospital. The Israeli Defense Forces are in a difficult situation, and we are advising them on how to proceed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House has stated that there could be a command node and tunnels underneath Al-Shifa Hospital, based on a downgraded assessment. However, no hostages were found there. The Israeli Defense Forces are still investigating the situation and using the facility. We expect more information to be revealed in the coming days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel that time is running out for diplomatic efforts regarding the hostages?

FINER: I'm sorry, could you repeat that?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Regarding the hostages, do you feel that time is running out to continue diplomatic efforts?

U.S. Urges Hamas to Release Hostages in Gaza

The U.S. government has expressed its concern over the prolonged detention of hostages in Gaza by Hamas. Speaking at a press conference, a spokesperson for the U.S. government stated that it is unacceptable for these individuals to be held captive for such an extended period of time, calling it an unconscionable act.

The spokesperson emphasized the urgency of the situation, highlighting the danger faced by civilians in Gaza and the need to secure the release of the hostages as soon as possible. The U.S. government is actively pressuring diplomatic channels to expedite their release.

Addressing recent comments by Israel's Prime Minister, who acknowledged the difficulty in minimizing civilian casualties, the U.S. government questioned whether the Leahy Act, which restricts military equipment based on human rights concerns, should be applied in this case. The spokesperson raised the possibility of reconsidering Israel's exemption from the act in light of recent events.

During a conversation, FINER stated that all countries, including Israel, are subject to the laws of armed conflict and U.S. statutory restrictions. He emphasized that Israel has the right to defend itself against the threats it faces, including going after Hamas leadership. However, he expressed concern about the safety of civilians in the southern part of Gaza, where many residents have fled at Israel's request. FINER urged Israel to ensure the safety of these civilians before proceeding with any combat operations. He also highlighted the need for Israel to learn from previous operations and take measures to protect civilian life. On the other hand, he criticized Hamas for disregarding civilian safety and openly expressing its desire to commit war crimes.

In response to President Biden's op-ed, FINER acknowledged the President's concerns about developments on the West Bank and violence against innocent Palestinians by extreme settlers. He mentioned that the U.S. is considering issuing visa bans against individuals associated with such violence, which could include American citizens who make up a significant portion of the settler population. More details regarding these consequences will be announced in the coming days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that is a government policy issue, rather than, you know, just the settlers, I guess, is my point there. The last time you were here, you talked about the Palestinian Authority, having done a fairly good job at maintaining control in the West Bank, given the security threat. The president said the Palestinians already needs to be revitalized to govern the West Bank and Gaza after Hamas. Does that mean they need to hold elections-like who actually runs the Palestinian Authority? The president is eighty-eight years old.

FINER: So the Palestinian Authority, throughout this period of crisis since October 7, has continued to work to provide security in the West Bank has continued to cooperate with Israeli defense forces on the provision of security, including, even though, they are under incredible pressure inside their own communities uh not to do that, quite candidly. And so our view is the Palestinian Authority is the only official institutional representative of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. That it will have to be part of any way forward when it comes to governance, both in Gaza and the West Bank. And the President spoke about this publicly and in his op-ed as well, that it will need additional support in order to be able to have the capability and the capacity to do that important work. But there is also a legitimacy challenge associated with the Palestinian Authority and we will work with them directly on enhancing their legitimacy, enhancing their capacity to be able to play this important role going forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Jon Finer, thank you very much for your time this morning.