01:15 GMT08 March 2021
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    Antony Blinken, who previously served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, is US President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to fill the role of secretary of state. He is presently appearing before a US Senate panel to begin his confirmation process.

    Sitting before a Senate panel, Blinken told lawmakers on Tuesday that there is "no doubt" that China poses one of the most significant challenges to the US, underscoring that Washington should approach Beijing from a "position of strength."

    Although Blinken acknowledged US President Donald Trump was "right in taking a tougher approach to China," he stressed that he "very much" disagreed with the manner in which the president went about the matter.

    "The basic principal was the right one," he remarked.

    The nominee also informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there is a strong enough foundation in place that could help to build a bipartisan policy on China.

    Additionally, the former official indicated that the incoming Biden administration intends to "convene a summit of democracies within the first year of his administration to bring democratic countries together to think together."

    More recently, the US doubled down on China, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing Beijing early Tuesday of genocide over its policies regarding Muslim Uighurs in the Western Xinjiang region. Pompeo's hard-worded Twitter post came months after reports first surfaced that the Trump administration was considering the label last August.

    China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse.

    a guard tower and barbed wire fences around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region, one of a growing number of internment camps in the region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination
    © AP Photo / Ng Han Guan
    a guard tower and barbed wire fences around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region, one of a growing number of internment camps in the region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination
    Asked about Pompeo's statement, Blinken told lawmakers he fully agreed with the secretary of state.

    As relations between China and the US have remained tense over the last four years of the Trump administration, experts believe the situation is unlikely to significantly improve under Biden. Alicia Garcia-Herrero, a chief economist at investment company Natixis, recently stated "the stakes are getting higher, not lower," and that a "reset" with the hopes of improved US economic growth were dwindling.

    Tensions between the two countries have reached new heights as Trump accused the foreign nation of trying to take advantage of the US economically - in regards to so-called unfair business practices, allegations which prompted the president to begin using tariffs, sanctions and strongly-worded statements against Beijing.

    The war of words between the pair reached a new boiling point at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Trump accuse China of hiding information regarding the deadly respiratory disease and begin referring to the outbreak as the "Wuhan Virus."

    US Will Seek New Nuclear Agreement With Iran

    At the hearing, Blinken also revealed that the Biden administration was eyeing the start of a new nuclear agreement with Iran that would also include Israel and Gulf states, long-time foes of the Iranian state.

    “The president-elect believes that if Iran comes back in the compliance we would too, but we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners who would once again be on the same side with us to seek a longer and stronger agreement and also ... to capture these other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran’s destabilizing activities,” Blinken said.

    However, the nominee noted that the US was "a long way" from being able to deliver on such an agreement.

    Similar to tensions with China, the US and Iran have been at odds since Trump withdrew Washington as a signer of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted a series of sanctions previously imposed on Iran in exchange for guarantees that Iran would place a cap on its stockpile of enriched uranium.

    President Donald Trump signs an executive order to increase sanctions on Iran, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Washington.
    © AP Photo / Alex Brandon
    President Donald Trump signs an executive order to increase sanctions on Iran, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Washington.

    As Trump withdrew from the JCPOA on the grounds that Iran reportedly violated the agreement, the move effectively reimposed tough sanctions on Iran and saw the start of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

    Issues between the two countries escalated even further with additional sanctions against Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, as well as the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who served as the commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force.

    In a parting shot against Trump and his strategic attacks, Iran sanctioned Trump and nine other US officials, including Pompeo, for their role in terrorist activities against the Middle Eastern country.

    Two-State Solution Best Measure to Ensure Israel's Future

    Touching on Middle East conflicts, Blinken stated that the best manner to guarantee Israel's future would be for the US to support a two-state solution in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    “The President-elect believes and I share this conviction that the best way and maybe the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state and to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled is to through the so-called 'two-state solution,' obviously a solution that is very challenged at this moment,” Blinken commented.

    “I think realistically it is hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that."

    Blinken also commented that he anticipated the Abraham Accords "might also create a greater sense of confidence and security in Israel as it considers its relationship with the Palestinians, because whether we like it or not, whether they like it or not it's not just going away."

    U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on screen as he delivers his speech during the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018
    © AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner
    U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on screen as he delivers his speech during the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018

    Although a number of governments and world bodies have voiced their support for a two-state solution in the conflict, achieving the goal has been difficult due to a variety of issues including border lines, the return of millions of refugees who either fled or were expelled from the homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that erupted after Israel's creation, and also the fact that both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital. In fact, Trump's decision to allow for the US embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem prompted widespread outrage.

    Blinken remarked during the hearing that he was in support of keeping the US embassy in Jerusalem.

    Russia 'Challenges' Will Be High on Biden Agenda

    Blinken's confirmation hearing also saw the nominee state that any and all alleged challenges posed by the Russian state will be "very high" on the incoming Biden administration's agenda.

    "The challenge posed by Russia across a whole series of fronts is also one that is urgent," he told the congressional panel. "This is very high on the agenda for the incoming administration."

    However, with the New Strategic Arms Reduction (New START) Treaty set to expire on February 5, Blinken revealed that the new administration would be looking into extending the arms control agreement, but would not be committed to limiting American missile defense programs in talks with Russia.

    "I think we're going to seek an extension. We will be coming to you very quickly, almost immediately to discuss that," he said, opting to not give specifics on how long the extension may be.

    Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama
    © RIA Novosti . Sergey Guneev
    Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama sign new strategic arms reduction treaty
    Previously, in an interview with the New York Times, Blinken explained that Biden's plans with Russia included extending the New START Treaty by five years with the hopes of expanding the agreement to include various other weapons and even additional signatories. 

    The New START Treaty was signed in Prague on April 8, 2010, and calls for cutting the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers in addition to establishing a verification system that would ensure both parties are in line with the treaty.

    Tapping on the possibility of allowing new countries to join the NATO alliance, Blinken stated that the "door should be open" to countries like Georgia, explaining that Tbilisi could ultimately serve as a deterrent to Russia.

    In late December the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Turkey over its multibillion-dollar acquisition of Russia's S-400 missile system, a move which prompted outrage from the US and the cancellation of Ankara's participation in the F-35 program. At the time, US and NATO allies argued that the S-400 system purchase posed a risk for the alliance.

    Weighing in on Turkey's purchase of the Russian missile system, Blinken remarked the S-400 deal was "unacceptable," and that more needs to be done in response.

    US Should 'Not' Stop Recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's Interim Leader

    Switching gears to the politics of South America, Blinken stressed to congressional lawmakers that the Land of the Free should by no means stop recognizing Juan Guaido as the so-called interim leader of Venezuela.

    When asked whether the US' opinion of Guaido should be altered, Blinken responded by saying, "No, it is not."

    "I very much agree with you, Senator, with regard to a number of the steps that were taken toward Venezuela in recent years, including recognizing Mr. Guaido and recognizing the National Assembly as the only democratically-elected institution in Venezuela."

    Juan Guaido, president of National Assembly, shows marks on his wrists, which he says are from handcuffs, to supporters at a rally in Caraballeda, Venezuela, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. The new head of Venezuela's increasingly defiant congress was pulled from his vehicle and briefly detained by police Sunday, a day after the U.S. backed him assuming the presidency as a way out of the country's deepening crisis. Guaido's wife Fabiana Rosales stands next to him, right. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
    © AP Photo / Fernando Llano
    Juan Guaido, president of National Assembly, shows marks on his wrists, which he says are from handcuffs, to supporters at a rally in Caraballeda, Venezuela, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. The new head of Venezuela's increasingly defiant congress was pulled from his vehicle and briefly detained by police Sunday, a day after the U.S. backed him assuming the presidency as a way out of the country's deepening crisis. Guaido's wife Fabiana Rosales stands next to him, right. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

    Additionally, Blinken stated Washington needed to reconsider how it could better target the Bolivarian Republic so that "the regime enablers really feel the pain of those sanctions."

    Blinken's remarks came as the Trump administration announced a slew of sanctions against three individuals, 14 business entities and six ships - a network accused of moving oil under the orders of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The US claims the group allegedly was attempting to circumvent earlier sanctions.

    Over the last two years, the Trump White House has been placing an increasing amount of pressure on Venezuela as Washington sought to remove Maduro from power by all means necessary, including by trying to organize a coup and installing US-friendly Guaido as the country's new leader. 

    Although the US Treasury Department reaffirmed the US' recognition of Guaido as Venezuela's leader in early January, the same could not be said for the European Union, which dropped its acknowledgement after Guaido lost his position as head of parliament. 

    Biden Administration Will Review 'Entire' North Korea Approach

    Noting the troubled ties the US currently has with North Korea, Blinken went on to state that the incoming administration would be taking an entirely new approach on its relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    Moving forward, the newly sworn in Biden administration intends to review options and consult with US allies as it hopes to focus on improved ways to ease tensions with North Korea, according to the nominee.

    "This is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration, and it's a problem that has not gotten better, in fact it's gotten worse," Blinken, referring to halted US-North Korea negotiations, said at his nomination hearing. "We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian side of the equation, not just on the security side of the equation."
    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore.
    © AP Photo / Evan Vucci
    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore.

    Under the Trump administration, the US was handed a major breakthrough as negotiators managed to score a first face-to-face summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Despite a slew of heated words being exchanged between the two world leaders early on in the Trump administration, the pair agreed to meet in Singapore in June 2018 and walked away with a deal that outlined normalizing ties between the two countries.

    However, by the time the pair were set to meet a second time - this time in Hanoi - the summit abruptly ended after two days, with no agreement in sight. It was later revealed that talks were shuttered after Trump officials failed to budge on lifting sanctions against the DPRK despite the country agreeing to denuclearize. Talks between the two countries have been largely silent since the second round of talks failed.

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    New START Treaty, New START, Russia, Iran, Israel, Venezuela, Joe Biden, Antony Blinken, US, China
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