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Who is Antony Blinken, Joe Biden's pick for secretary of state

Statesman is known for his pragmatic, international and inclusive approach to foreign policymaking.

Antony Blinken's appointment would be a huge shot in the arm for global multilateralism. Reuters 
Antony Blinken's appointment would be a huge shot in the arm for global multilateralism. Reuters 

US president-elect Joe Biden has picked long-time adviser and confidant Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state.

Mr Blinken’s appointment, first reported Sunday night by Bloomberg News, was made official by the Biden transition team on Monday but will require Senate confirmation.

Here's what you need to know about the most senior future US cabinet member.

Who is Antony Blinken?

Mr Blinken, 58, grew up between New York and Paris, is fluent in French, and is the son and nephew of US diplomats who served in Europe.

His stepfather, Samuel Pisar, survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust and became an adviser to former president John Kennedy.

Mr Pisar shaped his stepson’s thinking, especially on the “right to protect” and humanitarian interventions, something that Mr Blinken saw first-hand in the Bill Clinton White House and the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions.

He is a long-time confidant of Mr Biden, having worked with him for almost 20 years as a member of his Senate staff.

“Tony Blinken is a superstar and that’s not hyperbole,” Mr Biden said of his aide in a 2013 interview with The Washington Post.

What experience does he bring to the role?

Mr Blinken will bring an international background to the position and one rooted in the Democratic establishment, having served under former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

He served as Mr Biden's national security adviser during the Obama administration, graduating to deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017.

Before that he served on the White House National Security Council during the Clinton administration from 1994 to 2001.

Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr Blinken was in charge of the foreign policy agenda and co-ordinating responses to major global events.

Among those who worked with him in Baghdad and Washington, Mr Blinken is praised for his management skills, inclusiveness and ability to listen.

These are attributes he will need at the State Department, after a rocky Trump era of politicising the department under Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo.

Where does he stand on the big issues?

Some of Mr Blinken’s policy decisions will be questioned during his confirmation hearing, including on Iraq, with which he had close involvement during his time in the Obama administration.

“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 Mr Blinken’s support for former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki that many observers regard as having allowed the resurgence of ISIS in the country a year later.

On Iran, Mr Blinken supports returning to the nuclear deal but only if Tehran returns to strict compliance.

“[Joe Biden] would seek to build on the nuclear deal to make it longer and stronger if Iran returns to strict compliance,” he told the Aspen Institute last year.

Mr Blinken has been open to self-criticism and acknowledging mistakes, including those made by the Obama administration in Syria.

“We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life," he told CBS last May, We failed to prevent massive displacement … something I will take with me for the rest of my days.”

He said it was “virtually impossible" to imagine Mr Biden ever normalising relations with the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

In that same interview, Mr Blinken blamed the Trump administration for partially withdrawing from Syria and “abandoning the Kurds", which he called a “huge mistake".

Internationally, the smooth speaker and guitar player is expected to strike a tougher chord with Russia and China.

Speaking to the Intelligence Matters podcast, he accused Mr Trump of triggering a “democratic recession" that allowed "autocracies from Russia to China to exploit our difficulties".

Mr Blinken has embraced a humanist approach on the issue of refugees and is a fierce critic of Brexit.

In a Sesame Street episode he taped in 2016, he tells Grover the puppet about the hardships for those displaced from their homes.

“We all have something to learn and gain from one another, even when it doesn’t seem at first like we have much in common,” Mr Blinken told the furry puppet.

Updated: November 24, 2020 10:10 AM

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