U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the United States wants to rebuild its partnerships, “first and foremost with our NATO allies,” as he expressed the Biden administration’s “steadfast commitment” to the alliance.
Blinken spoke to reporters in Brussels alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg before the two held talks ahead of the start of a NATO ministerial meeting later in the day.
Stoltenberg said he welcomed the new U.S. administration’s approach, saying there is a “unique opportunity to start a new chapter in the transatlantic relationship.”
U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to join a videoconference of European Union leaders on Thursday, a top EU official said, as part of the U.S. commitment to NATO.
Biden’s stance is a marked contrast to that of former President Donald Trump, who frequently assailed other NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s goal that each country spend the equivalent of 2% of the size of its national economy on defense.
"The last thing we can afford to do is take this alliance for granted," said Blinken, a longtime Biden confidant.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian welcomed Blinken's favorable comments about NATO, which was founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the then-Soviet Union.
One of the major topics for discussion during two days of meetings in Brussels is the NATO mission in Afghanistan, as a May 1 deadline approaches for the full withdrawal of all U.S. troops under a peace agreement made last year between Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Trump administration.
Blinken said the situation is under review, and that part of his work in Brussels would be conferring with NATO allies, both to listen and to share U.S. thinking. He said whatever the United States decides to do, its actions will be with the consultation of other member countries that have been a part of the military mission.
“We went in together, we have adjusted together, and when the time is right, we’ll leave together,” Blinken said.
Stoltenberg said he welcomes the peace effort, stressing it is the “only path to a lasting political solution in Afghanistan.” But the NATO chief said that in order to achieve peace, all parties must negotiate in good faith, there needs to be a reduction of violence, and the Taliban must stop supporting international terrorists such as al-Qaida.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against a premature pullout that would undercut security gains.
"We want a conditions-based withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan," Maas said.
Blinken’s itinerary in Brussels also includes a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The State Department said agenda items include economic recovery efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic and addressing “global challenges that come from Iran, Russia and China.”
Regarding Iran, the top U.S. diplomat is expected to consult with EU colleagues about the prospects of the United States and Iran mutually returning to the agreement signed in 2015 that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Both the United States, which left the deal under Trump in 2018, and Iran, which responded by taking steps away from its commitments, have expressed a willingness to observe the agreement once again, but each has signaled the other side should act first.
The final part of Blinken’s trip agenda is bilateral talks with Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès.