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Here's what happened during Biden's Israel trip

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden is on his way back from Tel Aviv. His trip was meant to show support for Israelis grappling with the Hamas attacks that killed some 1,400 people on October 7. That day has been compared to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. President Biden said he understands what that feels like, but he also had a warning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But I caution this while you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.

KELLY: Meanwhile, there was rage across the Middle East, rage sparked by a deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds of people just before Biden left for this trip. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: The president was on the ground for, what, about seven hours? How did it go?

LIASSON: Yes, he was on the ground for about seven hours. And I think the trip was a microcosm of how difficult and fraught this issue is for Biden - how little control the U.S. has over events. And the trip was overtaken by events. He was supposed to also go to Amman, Jordan, to meet with three key Arab leaders, but that meeting was canceled because of the explosion in the hospital. The explosion sparked protests against the region. As you said, it inflamed public opinion in the Muslim world. Hamas blames Israel for the explosion, although Biden says the U.S. has information showing that it was an errant rocket from a militant group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad. So the president wants to be a staunch supporter of Israel. He wants to stop a wider conflagration in the Middle East. He also wants to make sure that support for Israel doesn't evaporate because of the way Israel responds to the attack. It's going to be very hard to accomplish all of those things.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, the White House said that Biden did pose some tough questions on this for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when they met today. I want you to listen to a little bit of what Biden said afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I made wartime decisions. I know the choices are never clear or easy for leadership. There's always cost, but it requires being deliberate. It requires asking very hard questions. It requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you're on will achieve those objectives.

KELLY: Mara, what is he getting at?

LIASSON: I think he's saying it's going to be very hard to eliminate Hamas because it's interwoven into Gaza civilian society. Military installations, command centers - they're all in civilian buildings. It's not clear how Israel plans to eliminate Hamas or whether it's even possible. And if it is possible, what happens afterwards? Who runs Gaza after Hamas? The Israelis don't seem to have a clear plan on that. And on this trip, Biden was saying two things that could be incompatible. We understand your right to retaliate - that's the first thing. And he says, but we also want you to protect the human rights of civilians in Gaza. And one of the things Biden did come away with today that was a positive was an agreement by Israel to let food, water and medicine into Gaza as soon as possible.

KELLY: Well, and I want to track back. You mentioned this meeting that was called off that was going to include the president of Egypt, also the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. How effective can Biden's diplomacy be if other leaders in the region won't sit down with him?

LIASSON: Well, that was definitely a setback. Although onboard Air Force One on the way home, Biden did talk to the Egyptian president. And he told reporters onboard Air Force One that President El-Sisi had agreed to open up the Rafah gate that's in southern Gaza to allow up to about 20 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza. That's something that the Egyptians have been reluctant to do. But he did say if Hamas confiscates the aid, then it will end.

KELLY: So what does all this mean, Mara, for Biden, for his foreign policy priorities?

LIASSON: Well, it sets them back. We're going to hear more about this from him tomorrow night at 8 o'clock. He's going to address the nation from the Oval Office. But it threatens to upend or distract from his other foreign policy objectives, like making sure Ukraine has enough weapons to defend against the Russian invasion or making sure Taiwan is also heavily armed.

KELLY: That is NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. 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.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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