Antony Blinken confirmed as US Secretary of State
Blinken regarded as having less confrontational approach to American foreign policymaking than predecessor Mike Pompeo
The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Joe Biden’s confidant Antony Blinken as the 71st US secretary of state.
He is set to bring a more diplomatic and less confrontational approach to American foreign policymaking than his predecessor, Mike Pompeo.
Mr Blinken, 58, was confirmed by the Senate with strong bipartisan support, with 78 senators voting yes and 22 no, after a 15-3 vote by the foreign relations committee on Monday evening.
He brings an international background to the position and one rooted in the Democratic political establishment, having served under former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
He grew up between New York and Paris, is fluent in French, and is the son and nephew of US diplomats in Europe.
His stepfather, Samuel Pisar, survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust and went on to become an adviser to former president John F Kennedy.
Mr Pisar shaped his stepson’s thinking, especially on the “right to protect” and humanitarian interventions, something in which Mr Blinken was involved first-hand in the White House under Bill Clinton and the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions.
In his confirmation hearing last week, Mr Blinken struck a different tone in addressing America’s challenges, substituting the defiant “America First” approach of his predecessor with one focused on building partnerships and restoring the transatlantic coalition.
On Iran particularly, Mr Blinken charted a path to return to the nuclear deal that the administration of Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, but only after Tehran proves compliance.
“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, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran’s destabilising activities,” he told the Senate.
But Mr Blinken regarded such a return to be a more medium-term goal.
“Having said that, I think we’re a long way from there," he said. "We would have to see ... what steps Iran actually takes – is prepared to take.”
He praised the Abraham Accord brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and four Arab states – the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
But Mr Blinken said the Biden administration would “take a hard look” at some of the commitments made by the Trump team in the agreements.
He voiced a more hawkish tone on China than that during his time in the Obama administration.
“China had a policy for decades, as we describe it, of hiding their hand and biding their time in terms of asserting their interests beyond China’s borders, leaving aside what they were doing within their borders,” Mr Blinken said.
He is considered to be a long-time confidant of Mr Biden, having worked with him for almost 20 years as a member of his Senate staff.
Mr Blinken has been praised for his management skills, inclusiveness and ability to listen.
These are attributes he will need at the State Department, after a rocky era of politicising the department under both Rex Tillerson and Mr Pompeo.
But while not being an ideological choice, some of Mr Blinken’s policy decisions have drawn criticism, especially between 2009 and 2013, when he handled Iraq, as deputy assistant to Mr Obama and as national security adviser to Mr Biden.
“We would not have got out of Iraq in a way that left the government with a fighting chance to make it without Tony Blinken’s hard work,” Mr Biden said in 2013.
But it is that withdrawal and the policies of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki that many observers see as giving room for the ISIS resurgence in the country a year later, prompting a US military return to Iraq to counter the terrorist organisation.
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, was quick to congratulate Mr Blinken, calling him a “thoughtful professional with disarming charm and humility",
Updated: January 27, 2021 09:08 AM