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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is having a rough week.

For two days, Republicans chipped away at the veneer of the normally cool-as-a-cucumber diplomat as he sat for a grilling to discuss the State Department's budget.

But fiscal matters took a back seat to the foreign policy challenges Mr Blinken faces, and at times his unflappable demeanour showed signs of fraying.

In a testy exchange with Senator Ted Cruz, who showcased his performative outrage to accuse Mr Blinken and President Joe Biden of being personally responsible for the conflict in the Middle East, the mild-mannered Mr Blinken came the closest I’ve seen to getting angry.

“You and President Biden funded the October 7 attacks by flowing $100 billion to a homicidal, genocidal regime that funded those attacks,” Mr Cruz said after doing some fuzzy maths to show how much Iran, which backs Hamas, is generating in oil revenue.

Mr Blinken responded: “That statement is profoundly wrong. I'm not even going to humour it. I think it's disgraceful.”

In addition to a tsunami of criticism from Republican politicians, he was repeatedly interrupted by protesters who hurled insults at the long-time Washington insider, calling him a “war criminal” for his involvement in propping up Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

It also emerged this week that Mr Blinken is “angry” at the number of leaks coming out of his State Department, particularly those about the war in Gaza.

Several State Department employees have resigned over US support to Israel, and during his testimony on the Hill, he gave the impression he is trying to tamp down a mutiny in the ranks.

“Leaks are an unfortunate part of the business that we're all engaged in. It's really regrettable,” Mr Blinken said.

Even his goodwill guitar playing in a Kyiv club last week drew criticism from killjoys who thought his rendition of Neil Young's Rockin’ in the Free World was a little off-key, politically speaking.

No doubt Mr Blinken will be glad to get out of town again for his next foreign trip.

Thomas Watkins
US Bureau Chief

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EYE ON 2024

Biden criticises Trump for 'unified Reich' social media video

Donald Trump's official social media account has removed a video showing fake headlines that mentioned a “unified Reich” if he wins the 2024 US election, as President Joe Biden accused his rival of using “Hitler's language”.

Mr Trump's campaign blamed an inattentive staff member for reposting the 30-second clip, which flashed a series of fictitious news stories painting a picture of American prosperity, with one including the term normally associated with Nazi Germany.

Mr Biden released a short clip of his own on X, in which he is seen looking at his phone and appearing shocked that the offending video had appeared on Mr Trump's official Truth Social account.

The President has previously called Mr Trump out for his Nazi-esque rhetoric.

Read More

 

What's Washington talking about?

Palestinian statehood: The administration of President Joe Biden is unhappy with Spain, Norway and Ireland after they said they would recognise Palestine as a state. “We do not believe that that contributes to Israel's long-term security or vitality,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

Connection issues: Mr Biden's struggles to connect with voters were on display during a speech at a graduation ceremony at Morehouse College, a historically black university in Atlanta, Georgia. Even though Mr Biden said he wanted an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, several in the audience turned their backs on him, highlighting a disconnect with many black and young voters Mr Biden needs to turn out if he is to win a second term.

Sorry, not sorry: One thing Mr Blinken and Republicans did agree on was the extent to which America should be mourning the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. The US expressed “official condolences” but when pushed on what this meant, Mr Blinken said “the Iranian people are probably better off” now.

Getting in line: Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador who mounted a doomed primary challenge against her former boss, got back aboard the Trump Train yesterday, saying she would vote for him in November. Ms Haley had been a vocal critic of Mr Trump and weathered several personal attacks from him.

Standing down: Talking of Mr Trump, he did not testify in his historic New York hush-money trial, despite saying that he would and claiming that he had not been allowed to. Defence lawyers for the first president to face criminal charges rested their case on Tuesday, a day after state prosecutors did the same.

 

QUOTED

“Russia launched a satellite into low-Earth orbit that we assess is likely a counter-space weapon”

– Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder told reporters that US satellites could be vulnerable

 
 

Spotlight: Rights experts slam 'hypocrisy' of US police crackdown on pro-Palestine student protests

The police crackdown on pro-Palestinian student protest camps and arrests of those calling for divestment from Israel amid the war in Gaza threaten the US's role in advocating democracy worldwide, experts say.

Human rights experts have highlighted the dichotomy between US condemnation of repression elsewhere, like Russia and Iran, and the mass arrests of peaceful protesters in the US over the past month.

“The recent crackdowns on free speech on campus highlight US hypocrisy,” Thomas Becker, legal and policy director at the University Network for Human Rights, tells The National.

Patrick deHahn's full story

 

Only in America

Could an ICC arrest warrant for Netanyahu come back to haunt US officials?

Washington's continued backing of Israel after the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court's decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli officials could ultimately create legal vulnerabilities for US leaders, experts say.

The US swiftly condemned the ICC on Monday after top prosecutor Karim Khan said he would seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Mr Khan is also seeking warrants for three top Hamas officials.

While the US does not recognise the ICC's jurisdiction, the case could pave the way for American leaders and officials to be held accountable in US courts of law, said Daniel Levy, president of the US-Middle East Project.

Sara Ruthven reports

 

READ MORE

Top US bank official to resign as uncertainty hangs over new rules
The US is in a bind over ICC arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas officials
New aid routes set up in Gaza after lorries intercepted
Updated: May 23, 2024, 11:46 AM