STATE DEPARTMENT - The new top U.S. diplomat, Antony Blinken, is pledging to work with core allies and partners to confront complex global challenges, while investing in a diverse and inclusive American Foreign Service.
Blinken was officially welcomed to the State Department on Wednesday as secretary of state by approximately 30 of the women and men representing a small cross-section of the larger workforce.
"I'm incredibly excited about the work ahead," Blinken said later at an afternoon press briefing, where he declared his respect for the press and promised to be transparent with reporters.
"Here's what you can count on – we're resuming daily press briefings starting next week – on Tuesday. That's an essential part of the day and we're bringing it back," he said.
In his earlier meeting with State Department staffers, Blinken said American leadership "is needed around the world" and that he will "put a premium on diplomacy" with allies and partners to meet shared challenges. These include "the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice, and the danger to our security and global stability" posed by U.S. adversaries.
The U.S. Senate confirmed him on Tuesday with a 78-22 vote to serve as the country's 71st secretary of state, filling the most senior Cabinet position and one that is fourth in the line of presidential succession.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Blinken said he was ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
In response to a question from a VOA reporter at the press briefing, Blinken said, "It's not a secret that the relationship between the United States and China is arguably the most important relationship in the world going forward."
Blinken said that while there are points of tension between the two countries, there is significant room for cooperation – particularly on issues like combating climate change.
Replying to @rongxiang, @SecBlinken says the US relationship with #China has adversarial, competitive and cooperative components and he's hoping to be able to cooperate with Beijing on battling the #ClimateCrisis. pic.twitter.com/1ctqbls0Q1— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 27, 2021
But Blinken said he still believes atrocities committed against China's Uyghur Muslim minority constitute genocide.
"That hasn't changed," he said.
Asked whether the Biden administration would rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran known as the JCPOA, Blinken said this would happen only "if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations."
"But we are a long ways from that point. Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts," Blinken said.
The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the agreement which had been negotiated before it took office.
Asked which of the Trump administration's foreign policies might soon be reversed, Blinken said the designation of Yemen's rebel Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organization is a priority for him.
Blinken said that while "the Houthis committed an act of significant aggression," there has also been a campaign in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia that has "contributed to what is by many estimates the worst humanitarian crisis in the world."
"We want to make sure any steps we are taking do not get in the way" of international assistance to the Yemeni people, Blinken said.
According to the United Nations, more than 22 million Yemenis, or three quarters of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance in the country's fourth year of war.
Blinken expressed deep concern at Russia's treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was recently arrested upon his return to Moscow after spending four months recovering from a poisoning that Blinken said may have been orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Blinken said Moscow's treatment of Navalny, as well as its suspected targeting of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and potential meddling in the U.S. election, are all under review.
When asked what the administration's "red line" would be to impose sanctions on Russia, Blinken said "we're not ruling out anything, but we want to get this review done."
Conservative lawmakers' opposition to Blinken at his confirmation hearing centered on concerns that the new administration may reenter the JCPOA with Iran and halt former President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against the Middle Eastern power.
"The policies that Mr. Blinken has committed to implementing as secretary of state, especially regarding Iran, will dangerously erode America's national security and will put the Biden administration on a collision course with Congress, and I could not support his confirmation," said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
During his confirmation hearing, Blinken vowed to rebuild State Department morale and the diplomatic corps. He said he saw the U.S. role abroad as leadership based on "humility and confidence."
The "swift and bipartisan confirmation sends a powerful signal to our nation and the world that American diplomacy and development matter — both on the global stage and here at home," said the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a broad-based network of 500 businesses and NGOs in a statement.
The 58-year-old Blinken was the deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. He was staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel, and later was then-Vice President Biden's national security adviser.