Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his first full day as senior US diplomat on Wednesday with a promise to restore American leadership to the world. This is a sharp contrast to the previous administration’s foreign policy tone, which left the country largely isolated on the global stage.
After speaking with foreign colleagues who represented longtime American allies in the Western Hemisphere, Asia, and Europe, Blinken described the desire to involve the United States more on the global stage as “almost palpable.”
“What I have already taken away from these conversations is the very, very strong desire of the United States to be back in the room, to be back at the table and to work with them on the many, many common challenges we face,” said blinking. “And I expect to hear more about it in the coming days.”
Blinken stopped to deliver a traditional first-day speech to U.S. State Department officials in Washington, admitting that a strong global presence requires a strong U.S. State Department and today’s diplomatic mission was not what it was four ago Years ago.
Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, has been widely criticized for politicizing the historically impartial institution and restructuring the agency under his predecessor Rex Tillerson, which only exacerbated attrition rates. Blinken committed to rebuilding the morale and confidence of the diplomatic corps.
Download the NBC News App for breaking news and politics
“The world is watching us carefully right now. They want to know if we can heal our nation,” said Blinken, addressing the few masked diplomats who were able to greet him under Covid-19 restrictions. “They want to see whether we will lead with the strength of our example … and whether we attach great importance to diplomacy with our allies and partners in order to meet the great challenges of our time.”
The State Department will spend Blinken’s first few months in office reviewing many of the policy decisions Pompeo made on his way to the door, including stopping last-minute arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Blinken said Wednesday that it was particularly focused on reassessing the Trump administration’s decision to label the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group a foreign terrorist organization. The Houthis or Ansar Allah control 80 percent of Yemen, and the sanctions are seen by international aid agencies as a push for a country already on the brink of famine, into yet another humanitarian crisis.
“Even in the midst of this crisis, it is of vital importance that we do everything we can to provide humanitarian aid to the people in Yemen who urgently need help,” Blinken said on Wednesday. “And we want to make sure that whatever steps we take don’t get in the way of providing that support.”
With regard to Afghanistan, President Joe Biden’s new Secretary of State was less different from his predecessor, and expressed the need to first understand the commitments both the United States and the Taliban made in their agreement. He confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador who led US negotiations with the Taliban during the Trump administration, will remain in the Biden administration.
Flashing too named the Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr., on Wednesday to reiterate America’s opposition to China’s drive to assert its dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Secretary Blinken also underlined that the United States is opposed to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea,” said Spokesman Ned Price, adding that Blinken would “stand against Southeast Asian applicants in the face of the PRC” [People’s Republic of China] Print.”
Blinken called the Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims “genocide” and continued Pompeo’s attitude.