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HomeConflictsPresident Joe Biden: The 2023 60 Minutes Interview Transcript

President Joe Biden: The 2023 60 Minutes Interview Transcript


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Rarely does a president confront so much peril; the catastrophe in Israel—the war in Ukraine—and no help from a paralyzed Congress. Late Thursday, we met President Biden at the White House. It had been a rough week and we could see it on him. Mr. Biden will be 81 next month. And he has said that when he’s tired, his life-long stutter can creep back in. But he wedged us into his schedule to express his commitment to Israel after the massacre of more than 1,000 civilians eight days ago. Twenty nine Americans were killed. Fifteen are missing—and at least a small number of them are known to have been taken hostage. In a video call on Friday, Mr. Biden had this message for Americans in Israel whose loved ones have vanished.

President Biden: I’m saying we’re gonna do everything in our power to find those who are still alive and set them free. Everything in our power. And– I’m not gonna go into the detail of that, but there’s– we’re workin’ like hell on it.

Scott Pelley: Why do you feel so strongly about speaking to these families personally on Zoom?

President Biden: Because I think they have to know that the president of the United States of America cares deeply about what’s happening. Deeply. We have to communicate to the world this is critical. this is not even hum– human behavior. It’s– it– it– it’s– it’s– it’s pure barbarism. And we’re gonna do everything in our power to get them home if we can find them.

Friday’s hour-long call with 14 families included a father who told us the president answered desperate pleas with empathy and patience.

Scott Pelley: Is getting the American hostages back safely among your highest priorities now?

President Biden: Of course, it is. But it’s hard to– hard to make distinctions. It’s– most important thing is ending this brutality and to hold those who committed it accountable.

To confront the ‘brutality,’ Mr. Biden ordered two aircraft carriers plus cruisers and destroyers to the region. There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria–on a counterterrorism mission since 2015.

Scott Pelley: Can you foresee U.S. troops in combat in this new Middle East war?

President Biden: I– I don’t think that’s necessary. Israel has one of the finest fighting forces in the country. I guarantee we’re gonna provide them everything they need.

Scott Pelley: Because of what we’re seeing in the Middle East, is the threat of terrorism in the United States increased?

President Biden: Yes. I had a meeting this morning with the Homeland Security people, with the FBI, with– for the Situation Room, for the better part of an hour to discuss how we make sure that we prevent a lone wolf and/or any cohi– coordinated effort to try to do what was done in synagogues before, do what was done to Jews in the street. we’re making a major effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Saturday, October 7th, has been called Israel’s 9/11. More than 1,000 Hamas terrorists from Gaza smashed through a border wall to commit mass murder–families in their homes, crowds at a concert, people in the street.

Israel is striking back with the largest bombardment of Gaza ever. More than 2,000 have been killed by Gaza’s count.

Scott Pelley: Certainly, about 1,200 Israeli civilians were killed in the initial attack, but now Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians are being killed in the counterattack. Is it time for a ceasefire?

President Biden: Look, there’s a fundamental difference. Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust. And– so I think Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians. They put their of—their—their—their headquarters where civilians are and buildings and the like. But to the extent they can separate out and avoi—I’m conf– the Israelis are gonna do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.

Hamas is an Islamist terrorist group and the government of Gaza. Gaza is 25 miles long and averages 5 miles wide. Israel severely limits its economy so most Gazans are destitute. Now, Israel has cut off food, fuel, electricity and most water, and has ordered 1 million Gazans to evacuate to the southern half of Gaza. The U.N. warns of a humanitarian disaster.

Scott Pelley: There are about 2 million people in Gaza, as you know, Mr. President, 2 million people trapped. About half of them are children. Are you asking Israel to establish a humanitarian corridor in that area or get humanitarian supplies into it?

President Biden: Yes, our team is talkin’ to ’em about that. And– whether there could be a safe zone. We’re also talking to Egyptians– whether there is an outlet to get these children and– and women out— into—out of that a that area at this moment. But it’s– it’s c– hard.

Scott Pelley: You would like to see a humanitarian corridor that allows some of the 2 million Gazans out of the area?

President Biden: Yes.

Scott Pelley: You would like to see humanitarian supplies brought into Gaza?

President Biden: Yes.

Scott Pelley: So you do not agree with the Israeli total siege of the Gaza Strip?

President Biden: I’m confident that Israel is going to act under the measure– the– the rules of war. There– there’s– standards that democratic institutions and countries w– go– go by. And so– I’m– I– I’m confident that there’s gonna be an ability for the innocents in Gaza to be able to have access to medicine and food and water.

Scott Pelley: Would you support Israeli occupation of Gaza at this point?

President Biden: I think it’d be a big mistake. Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that…It would be a mistake to…for Israel to occupy…Gaza again. We…but going in but taking out the extremists the Hezbollah is up north but Hamas down south. Is a necessary requirement.

Scott Pelley: Do you believe that Hamas must be eliminated entirely?

President Biden: Yes, I do. But there needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.

That path, called “the two state solution,” has been U.S. policy for decades. It would create an independent nation next to Israel for 5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza and on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Scott Pelley: And you believe Israel would pursue that after what’s occurred–

President Biden: Not now. Not now. Not now, but– but I think Israel understands that a significant portion of Palestinian people do not share the views of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is a powerful Islamist militia to Israel’s north which is armed and trained by Iran. Iran also supports Hamas.

Scott Pelley: There’s limited fighting already on the northern Israeli border, and I wonder what is your message to Hezbollah and its backer, Iran?

President Biden: Don’t. Don’t, don’t, don’t.

Scott Pelley: Don’t come across the border? Don’t escalate this war?

President Biden: That’s right.

Scott Pelley: Is Iran behind the Gaza war?

President Biden: I don’t wanna get into classified information. But to be very blunt with you, there is no clear evidence of that.

Scott Pelley: At this point, no evidence that Iran is behind any of this?

President Biden: Correct. Now, Iran constantly supports Hamas and Hezbollah. I don’t mean that. But in terms of were they– w– did they have foreknowledge; did they help plan the attack– the– there’s– there’s no evidence of that at this point.

The president is asking for billions of dollars for Israel and Ukraine. But Congress is paralyzed. Hard-right Republicans are obstructing the election of a speaker of the house.

Scott Pelley: Does the dysfunction that we’ve seen in Congress increase the danger in the world?

President Biden: Yes. Look, this is not your father’s Republican Party. Thirty percent of it’s made up of these MAGA Republicans who are maybe– democracy is something I don’t– they don’t look at the same way you and I look at democracy.

Scott Pelley: Are the wars in Israel and Ukraine more than the United States can take on at the same time?

President Biden: No. We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history– not in the world, in the history of the world. The history of the world. We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion occupies nearly 20% of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands have been killed or wounded. In an interview last month, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told us he could lose without U.S. aid.

Scott Pelley: How do these wars in Israel and Ukraine relate to the safety of the American people?

President Biden: Overwhelmingly, they relate. For example, in Ukraine one of my objectives was to prevent Putin, who has committed war crimes himself, who– from bein’ able to occupy an independent country that borders NATO allies and is on the Russian border. Imagine what happens now if he were able to succeed. Have you ever known a major war in Europe we didn’t get sucked into? We don’t want that to happen. We want to make sure those democracies are sustained. And Ukraine is critical in making sure that happens.

Mr. Biden told us images of October 7th reminded him of the Holocaust—which he has studied– taking his family to the Dachau death camp in Germany. This is 2015, the man in the wheelchair is a Dachau survivor. Behind Mr. Biden is the president’s granddaughter.

President Biden: I want my children and grandchildren to fully understand exactly what happened and why you couldn’t deny the carnage going on if you were living in Germany and in Europe.

Scott Pelley: Why do you feel so strongly? What does Israel mean to you?

President Biden: The Jews have been subject to abuse, prejudice, and– and– attempt to wipe them out for, oh, God, over a th– thousand years. For me, it’s about decency, respect, honor. it’s just simply wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It violates every religious principle I have and every way– and every single principle my father taught me.

As we spoke to the president, his secretary of state was in Israel, his secretary of defense was in a NATO meeting on Ukraine. America’s oldest president seemed tired from directing all of this. But he was very clear on what he stood for and how his policies, in his view, would see America through.

Scott Pelley: Mr. President, given these two wars and the dysfunction in Congress, are you sure that you want to run again?

President Biden: Yes ..because.. I’m sure. Look, when I ran, I said, “The world’s at an inflection point.” The world’s changing, but we have an opportunity to make it– so, imagine if we were able to succeed in getting the Middle East put in place where we have normalization of relations. I think we can do that. Imagine what happens if we, in fact, unite all of Europe and Putin is finally put down where he cannot cause the kind of trouble he’s been causing. We have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make it a better world.

Source: CBS News


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