Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington last month. Alex Edelman / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption
Alex Edelman / AFP via Getty Images
Alex Edelman / AFP via Getty Images
Updated at 5:09 p.m. ET
State Secretary Antony Blinken has been in office for three weeks. It comes at a challenging time: the US must figure out how to deal with China, Russia, and Iran, the coronavirus pandemic rages on, and the State Department must rise from the morale it suffered during the Trump administration.
In a Tuesday interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, Blinken said that “there is no doubt” that recent events have “marred” the ability of American diplomats to promote democracy and human rights.
If the US and Iran want to resume a nuclear deal, he said, “We have to work on an agreement that is longer and stronger than the original.” Time has passed and Blinken says that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are “going in the wrong direction”.
You can read a full transcript of the interview Here.
“We hope that our work every day will help make the American people a little bit safer, a little bit wealthier and a little bit healthier,” said Blinken. “And if we do that and take enough steps, we’ll be in a better place in a few years.”
Given these values, which are under attack in the US, Blinken makes diplomacy a little more difficult.
“There is no doubt that our ability to wave the banner of democracy and human rights to some extent has been hampered by recent events, particularly the monstrous attack on the Capitol on January 6,” he said.
But American democracy is resilient, he says – and that is itself a model for the world.
“Even when we deal with this ongoing problem, we do it in a way that is transparent and visible to the whole world. And unlike some other places, we are not trying to sweep it up.” under the carpet, “he said.” We’ll confront it. And sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s painful, but it’s also incredibly powerful. “
He says he tells his colleagues around the world “that our democracy is strong and resilient. And the fact that we are constantly trying to build a more perfect union is an acknowledgment of our imperfection. But it is also the pursuit of it.” You are really making progress. And I think there is a model for others. “
Blinken listed a number of measures that the Biden government has already taken, including the resumption of the Paris Climate Agreement, reintegration into the World Health Organization, ending travel bans that mainly affected Muslim majority and African countries, restoring the US Refugee Program and joining the United Nations Human Rights Council as an observer.
“In a matter of weeks, we’ve teamed up with allies and partners around the world again. I think I’ve made 50 calls so far.”
He said US policy remains that Iran should not get a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian nuclear deal – the JCPOA – effectively cut off Iranian avenues for producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Blinken said, “And it is very unfortunate that we have withdrawn.”
A mere restart of the JCPOA is no longer sufficient. The Trump administration officially left this deal in May 2018, and in the years since then Iran has ramped up its nuclear program.
Blinken suggested that a future deal would have to address other “deeply problematic” issues such as Iranian actions in other Middle Eastern countries.
“Time has passed. So if we want to get back into the deal, if Iran goes back to compliance and we do the same, we have to work on an agreement that is longer and stronger than the original one … but the first one.” Step would be for Iran to return to compliance. “
Blinken said he believed the Trump administration was rightly tough on China, but its approach had yielded no results. “The common denominator must approach China from a position of strength, not weakness. That strength comes … primarily from working closely with allies and partners who may be similarly affected by some of China’s practices. If we do “Our aim is to fight with our allies instead of working with them, which affects our strength in dealing with China,” he said.
“Likewise, being engaged, leaning in and showing up all over the world is a source of strength,” he continued. “If we back off, if we give up our responsibilities, if we don’t help write the rules and norms that govern relations between nations, guess what? China fills out and competes our place. “
The secretary said the pandemic had so far canceled all travel plans and prevented him from seeing both his colleagues and State Department staff.
“I wish I could do this tomorrow,” he said. “We have to go beyond COVID-19, or at least get to the point where travel is safe. And we’re not quite there yet.”