White House says Israel-Hamas talks shouldn’t be impacted by drone attack that killed US troops

The White House on Monday reiterated President Joe Biden’s pledge to respond to the fatal attack on a US base in Jordan last week while pressing forward with negotiations that could free hostages held by Hamas and bring about a pause in fighting between Israel and the militant group.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at the daily White House press briefing that there was “no reason” that the work by US negotiators, including CIA Director William Burns, over talks in Paris with Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials, would be impeded by the drone strike by Iran-backed militants, which claimed the lives of three US soldiers and injured dozens of others.

President Joe Biden has vowed that the US “shall respond” to the attack, which is widely believed to be part of a campaign orchestrated by Tehran to escalate tensions and inflict damage on the US and its allies in the Middle East region.

But Mr Kirby said any US response should not factor into what happens with the talks, either.

“There’s no reason why our work on a hostage deal needs to be affected or impacted by what happened over the weekend or what we do about what happened over the weekend,” he said.

“We still want to keep the work going [with] our shoulders to the wheel on this hostage deal, and we’ll just have to see where it goes,” he continued, adding later that while there isn’t an “immediate deal” at this time, the US feels the talks are “moving in a good direction”.

The US-led talks have reportedly brought Israeli and Hamas leaders closer to a deal that would see Israel pause hostilities in the Gaza Strip for roughly two months, with Hamas releasing more than 100 of the hostages it has held since the 7 October terrorist attacks plunged the region into tumult and killed more than 1,000 Israelis. The Israeli response to the attacks have killed more than 25,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Mr Biden has repeatedly dispatched top emissaries from his administration, including Mr Burns and Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, to the region for talks with officials from Egypt and Qatar who have served as intermediaries between the US, Israel and Hamas.

Last week the president spoke separately with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, about the ongoing conflict and their respective countries’ roles in the efforts to secure the release of the hostages.

Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government is still committed to securing the freedom of those hostages who were not released during a series of pauses in fighting in November.

“As of today, we have returned 110 of our hostages and we are committed to returning all of them home,” he said in a statement. “We are dealing with this and we are doing so around the clock, including now”.

The ongoing talks over the hostages taken during the 7 October attacks come as Mr Biden is weighing how to respond to the killing of the three US service members, the first US troops to die in a conflict zone since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Asked about Iranian denials of responsibility for the attack, Mr Kirby that he would not “get into intelligence assessment for one way or another”.

“Clearly, there’s a responsibility that appropriately needs to be laid at the feet of leaders in Tehran,” he said after noting that the Iranian government “clearly” continues to support militant groups that have been attacking US positions, ships, and international commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

But he stressed that Mr Biden is in the process of consulting with his national security team about a response to the attacks.

“He’s met twice with the national security team yesterday and today. He’s weighing the options before him. As he said yesterday, we will respond, we’ll do that on our schedule and our time, and we’ll do it in the manner of the President’s choosing, as commander in chief,” he said. “We’ll also do it fully cognizant of the fact that these groups, backed by Tehran, have just taken the lives of American troops”.