WASHINGTON (AP) — National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told lawmakers this week that the White House is not seeking to place conditions on U.S. military assistance to Israel, days after President Joe Biden signaled openness to the notion that was being pushed by some Democrats as the civilian death toll in Gaza from Israel's war against Hamas climbed.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who was among lawmakers who met privately with Sullivan on Tuesday, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Sullivan "made it clear that the White House is not asking for any conditionality in aid. So I want to leave that very clear.” A second person directly familiar with the meeting confirmed the account.
Sullivan was on Capitol Hill to discuss questions from Senate Democrats about how the administration would ensure that any U.S. weapons provided to Israel are used in accord with U.S. law.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the U.S. place conditions on the types of military assistance and how it could be used by Israeli forces against Hamas targets as they've grown concerned about the civilian toll.
Last week, Biden told reporters that conditioning military aid to Israel was a “worthwhile thought." But he suggested that had he done so earlier, it would have been more difficult to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.
Van Hollen, D-Md., had spearheaded a letter signed by a majority of Senate Democrats earlier this month asking the administration how it would ensure Israel’s use of weaponry complied with American law.
Van Hollen and two other Senate Democrats raised the issue again in a new letter Wednesday after their meeting with the White House, pointing to signals from the Netanyahu government that it intends to spread its ground offensive from north to south Gaza when the current cease-fire ends.
Van Hollen said Sullivan told him that Biden communicated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some of the Senate Democrats’ concerns about what the lawmaker termed “unacceptably high levels of civilian casualties” and the slow pace of humanitarian assistance.
The National Security Council did not immediately comment on Sullivan’s reported comments to lawmakers.
The White House had showed signs of edging away from Biden’s comment on possibly conditioning future Israel military aid earlier this week. Asked directly on Monday if Biden was considering conditioning aid, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby appeared to hedge.
“What he also said, right after acknowledging that it was ‘a worthwhile thought,’ was that the approach he has chosen to take so far has produced results and outcomes,” Kirby said.
He added: “The approach that we’re taking with Israel and, quite frankly, with our partners in the region is working. It’s getting aid in to people that need it. It’s getting a pause in the fighting. It’s getting hostages out. It’s getting Americans out.”
AP writers Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.
Seung Min Kim, The Associated Press