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.”
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 former U.S. administration of President Donald Trump.
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 need to negotiate in good faith, there needs to be a reduction of violence and the Taliban must stop supporting international terrorists such as al-Qaida.
In addition to attending the NATO ministerial meetings, Blinken’s schedule Tuesday also includes a separate session with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.
Blinken’s arrival in Europe on Monday came as the United States issued coordinated sanctions with the European Union on both China and Myanmar. The Myanmar sanctions targeted top officials who are linked to last month’s military coup, while the China sanctions were aimed at several Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s Xinjiang province.
Regarding the China sanctions, which were also imposed in coordination with Canada and Britain, Blinken said the United States was acting in solidary with U.S. allies.
“A united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse international human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with like-minded partners,” Blinken said in a statement Monday.
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 European Union 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 start first.
The final part of Blinken’s trip agenda is bilateral talks with Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès.