The US Senate has confirmed that Antony Blinken will be the next US Secretary of State, the country’s top diplomat.
Blinken’s confirmation with a vote of 78-22 indicates broad political support for President Joe Biden’s promise of a US foreign policy focused on diplomacy and alliances.
“Mr. Blinken has a long and distinguished history in politics and foreign relations,” said Senator James Risch, a prominent foreign affairs Republican who backed Blinken’s confirmation.
Biden’s new tone is a brutal hijacking of former President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy that angered Washington’s allies in Europe, strained contacts within NATO and brought US-China relations to a new low.
In his confirmation hearingBlinken said the new Biden administration would end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen and seek to revert to an Iranian nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration.
“We will revitalize US diplomacy to face and address the most pressing challenges of our time,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 19.
“American leadership still matters,” Blinken said, describing the world as a world defined by “the rise of nationalism, the retreat of democracy, the growing rivalry between China and Russia and other authoritarian states.”
Blinken is a former White House national security aide and former chief of staff to Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He took over as head of the State Department after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who saw many career foreign service officers leave the Trump administration.
On the Middle East, Blinken said during his confirmation hearing that the new Biden administration would seek to build on the recent US-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
Blinken stressed that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” and said the two-state solution, which has long been a centerpiece of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict , is “highly contested at this stage”.
At the same time, Biden’s team will be looking at some of the commitments Trump made to push countries to make those deals with Israel, Blinken said.
The United States has recognized Morocco’s claim to the disputed territory of Western Sahara as part of a Morocco-Israel normalization agreement. It removed Sudan from its list of “sponsor states of terrorism” after the Sudanese government struck a deal with Israel.
US policy towards Iran is an area in which Congressional Republicans and some Democrats are breaking with Blinken who has said he plans to seek a renewal of the nuclear deal with a “longer and stronger deal.”
In remarks to the Senate on Tuesday, Risch warned that a reversal of the US approach to Iran remains an embarrassing concern for many lawmakers.
“There are people on both sides of the aisle who have real reservations about going back to the JCPOA, especially if there aren’t really big buffets on it,” Risch said.
The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is the official name of the nuclear agreement concluded in 2015 by Iran with the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council.
Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iranian nuclear pact in 2018 as his administration pursued a ‘maximum pressure’ strategy against Tehran and Iran began enriching uranium at a faster rate, approaching the possibility to build a nuclear weapon.
Blinken said that assassination Iranian General Qassem Soleimani a year ago “made us less secure” in the region.
Blinken has named China as the main challenge for US foreign policy and said he agrees with the general thrust of the Trump administration’s tougher approach.
“The basic premise was the right one,” Blinken said, adding that he did not agree with some of the actions Trump took, however.
“We have to start by approaching China from a position of strength,” Blinken said, which will require “military investments to ensure that we can deter any aggression.”