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Politics

Protesters Against War in Gaza Interrupt Blinken Repeatedly in the Senate

WASHINGTON  — In wide-ranging testimony before the Senate Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court for seeking the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said that despite offering condolences for the death of Iran’s president, it didn’t change that leader’s history of repression.

Blinken, speaking to senators about the Biden administration’s foreign affairs budget proposal, was repeatedly interrupted by protesters condemning U.S. policy toward its ally Israel and its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Appropriations committees halted the hearings at least six times while Blinken was delivering his opening statements as demonstrators stood up to shout their opposition to the administration’s position and accused him of being a “war criminal” and being responsible for a “genocide” against the Palestinian people.

Several silent protesters held up their hands, stained with red paint or dye, behind Blinken during his appearances.

In his remarks and his responses to questions from senators, Blinken followed President Joe Biden and other administration officials in condemning the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor for seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over actions taken during their seven-month war in Gaza.

Blinken repeated the position that the tribunal, which Israel and the U.S. do not recognize, does not have jurisdiction and that it was “extremely wrong-headed” for the prosecutor to equate the Israeli officials with the Hamas leaders that he is also seeking to indict.

Senate Republicans have threatened sanctions against ICC personnel over the decision, but the administration has not yet taken a stand. Blinken, however, said the administration would work with lawmakers to come up with an appropriate response, should one be needed.

Blinken lamented that some administration critics appeared to be overlooking Hamas’ role in starting the war in Gaza with its deadly attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

A day after the State Department issued a statement expressing condolences for the deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and others in a recent helicopter crash, Blinken told senators that it was a typical gesture when “countries — adversaries, enemies or not — have lost leaders.”

“It changes nothing about the fact that Mr. Raisi was engaged in reprehensible conduct, including repressing his own people for many years as a judge and then as president,” Blinken said. “It changes not a whit about our policy.”

People protest during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not shown, speaks to examine the President’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2025 for the Department of State, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

His comments come even as Brett McGurk, a top Middle East adviser to Biden, had indirect talks last week in Oman with Ali Bagheri Kani, who is now serving as Iran’s acting foreign minister, according to a U.S. official familiar with the sensitive talks but who was not authorized to comment publicly.

Kani, who became acting foreign minister after the crash, and McGurk were not in the same room, with Omani officials shuttling messages between McGurk and Kani.

The official said such indirect talks are a channel that the U.S. has used in the past with the Iranians to convey concerns and make clear there are consequences for destabilizing actions.

Weeks ago, Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles at Israel after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria that killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building. U.S. forces helped down the barrage from Iran.

The official added that the indirect talks were aimed at managing risks amid growing concerns that the Israel-Hamas conflict can evolve into a broader regional conflict.

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