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Biden says U.S. stands with Israel, condemns Hamas attack as 'evil'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden has had a series of calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Hamas launched its attack.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And yesterday, after his latest call, he delivered an unequivocal message that there was no justification for the atrocities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The brutality of Hamas - this bloodthirstiness - brings to mind the worst rampages of ISIS. This is terrorism. But sadly, for the Jewish people, it's not new.

FADEL: And Biden says he plans to ask Congress for more funding for Israel's national security needs.

MARTIN: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now to tell us more about all this. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the president went into some graphic detail in his remarks describing what happened during the attacks on Israel. What do you think he was trying to underscore there?

KEITH: It was really notable coming from Biden. He used words like slaughtered, butchered, massacred and went into detail about the nature of what he said were sickening atrocities. Hamas, he said, does not stand for the Palestinian cause. Hamas stands for ending the state of Israel and murdering Jewish people. And he said that there was no justification for the attacks.

And to answer your questions, what it seems like he was doing here was telling Americans in no uncertain terms that this was terrorism. This wasn't war in any traditional sense, and it wasn't far away or abstract. Americans should be outraged, he was arguing. And he also noted that Americans are among the dead and those held hostage.

MARTIN: I do have to say, though, that there is still concern among, you know, some in the United States - I mean, some might say particularly among, you know, progressives - about how Israel is going to respond in Gaza as it seeks to root out Hamas. Did the president address those concerns?

KEITH: He said that Israel has the right and the duty to respond to the attack, but he did draw a distinction about targeting civilians, about following international laws of war. And he said he talked about this with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I told him if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming. We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.

KEITH: His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, later confirmed to reporters that the U.S. is talking to Egypt and others about providing safe passage for Palestinian civilians who live in Gaza and who are at the moment completely trapped.

MARTIN: Moving to another subject, there have been a lot of questions about how these attacks could have happened without warning and about this as an intelligence failure and about Iran's connection - possible connection to these attacks. Did the president speak about that?

KEITH: Biden did not utter the word Iran, but he did warn, quote, "any country" against taking advantage of Israel right now, saying, I have one word - don't. Sullivan yesterday said that while it's clear that Iran has long provided most of the funding and training for Hamas, the U.S. government does not at the moment have evidence that Iran helped plan or direct these attacks. But he says they're looking for it.

And this all comes as Biden is getting hit with a lot of blame from Republicans, who say that his prisoner swap with Iran led to the attack. That swap unlocked $6 billion in Iranian funds for humanitarian causes only, like medicine and food. Sullivan was asked whether the U.S. would look at refreezing those funds, and he said, quote, "not a dollar of that money has been spent, and I will leave it at that." He, however, did not commit one way or another about what would happen with those funds.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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