U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa discussed “the reckless and dangerous Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea” during a meeting in Manama, the Bahraini capital, according to Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman.
Blinken “underscored the need to urgently address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and welcomed efforts to protect civilian lives, free hostages, increase humanitarian assistance and prevent further spread of the conflict,” and he and the king reaffirmed “shared commitment” to “a more secure, prosperous and integrated region, including through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, to sustain a lasting peace,” Miller added. (The secretary of state did the same earlier in the day in Ramallah.)
Blinken discussed the Houthis on Wednesday during remarks to reporters in Manama.
“There have been hundreds of attacks now since November on shipping in the Red Sea affecting more than 40 countries tied to ships with 40 different countries,” the secretary said. “We had the biggest attack—UAVs [drones], missiles—just yesterday.”
“These attacks have been aided and abetted by Iran with technology, equipment, intelligence, information, and they are having a real-life impact on people,” he added.
The Houthis, whom the Biden administration has not reclassified as a terrorist group, have disrupted supply chains and raised costs, as ships have had to divert from the Red Sea, according to Blinken.
He compared the hostages that the Houthis have taken with those that Hamas terrorists kidnapped, and has raped, tortured and killed.
“We know all about the hostages in Gaza; well, the Houthis have taken more than 25 hostages from the ships that they’ve seized since this fall,” Blinken said. “So all of this has required us—this challenge, this threat to the interests of countries around the world, has required us to respond.”
On Jan. 9, Blinken drew criticism for the way he referred to the Israeli hostages in Gaza. “Today, I met with the families of individuals detained by Hamas, and I assured them that we remain intensely focused on getting their loved ones home,” he wrote. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure the release of every hostage.”
Many mocked or criticized his use of the term “detained,” with one social media user noting that the hostages weren’t stopped for speeding.
In an interview on Wednesday with Andrea Mitchell, of MSNBC, from the David Kempinski Tel Aviv hotel, Blinken referred to the families of the Israeli hostages. “For them, these three months have been an eternity,” he said. “Every day, every hour, every minute feels like an eternity. So we’re also relentlessly focused on bringing them home.”
“I met with some of them after they met with you. They are angry, and you know that. They are angry, they say, that America is the world’s greatest superpower. Where is the big stick, they said?” Mitchell said. “Why can’t you save our six children? And how do you answer that?”
“No one can put themselves fully in the shoes of the families of the hostages, and if I were in their shoes, I’d probably feel exactly the same way,” Blinken said. “We were successful a couple months ago in getting more than 100 hostages out. We’re very determined to continue that.”
“The hard part is the enemy gets a vote—Hamas—and so we’re doing everything we possibly can, working of course with the Israelis, working with Qatar, working with Egypt, countries that have relationships of one kind or another with Hamas, to put this back on track to continue getting hostages home,” Blinken said. “That’s really my number one priority, number one responsibility in this job.”
At the Bahrain press conference, Blinken said that he met earlier in the day with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader.
“We talked as well about the importance of reforming the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian governance so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza that—so that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited under a Palestinian leadership,” Blinken said.
“It’s very clear to me from President Abbas that he’s prepared to move forward and engage in all of these efforts,” he added.