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NATO, China, Russia, Nord Stream 2, US Secretary of State gives the lowdown

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Antony Blinken has been serving as the 71st US Secretary of State under President Joe Biden”s leadership since January 26th, 2021. He has years of state official and diplomatic experience, serving notably as deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015 and deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017 under President Barack Obama.

During his recent visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, he gave us his insight on transatlantic relations under President Biden. He also delved into Nord Stream 2, Chinese and Russian relations, and the pandemic.

US-EU Relations

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, Brussels:

“We wanted to come here, to be here with one very central task in mind, and that was to simply reaffirm our commitment to NATO, to our alliances, our partnership as well with the European Union, with our core allies. That was the most important message to send. And this is part of two weeks really of travel. We started in Japan and Korea and then came here and again, all for the purpose of demonstrating that America is back in terms of its commitment to its alliances, to its partnerships. And we got a very, very good reception”.

EU Sanctions on China: Is the EU moving closer to the US in the way it handles China?

“You know, this is not about ganging up on China. It’s not about trying to hold China down or to contain it. It is about standing up together for the interests and values that we share. And one of those, something we’ve all invested in for so many years is in something we call the rules-based international order. We found that the best way to make sure that countries can work together and manage their relations productively is to sign up to a common set of rules and commitments. And our challenge is to make sure that we uphold that order. And so when any country, whether it’s China or anyone else, takes actions that undermine it, when they’re not playing by the rules, we have an obligation to stand up and say, you need to. And we’re much more effective in doing that when we’re doing it together in solidarity”.

In regards to Russia-China ties, how worried is the US about Russian troops in the Baltic countries?

“Look, this is, this was, a big subject of conversation at NATO this week. I think there is a deeply shared concern about some of Russia’s aggressive actions. And, of course, in the United States, we’ve had the SolarWinds cyber attack. We’ve had interference in our elections. We have had the possible use of bounties on our forces in Afghanistan. And, of course, we’ve seen the poisoning and the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, by using a chemical weapon, not to mention Russia’s ongoing aggression in Eastern Ukraine. All of these things, as well as new weapons systems that are developing, are of concern not just to us, but to our allies and partners. And I think there’s a common assessment of the challenge posed by Russia and also a common commitment to stand together, to deal with it. I think we’re all very clear-eyed. So we see the challenge. I think we also recognise that there may be areas where out of mutual interest, we can still work together. For example, the United States extended with Russia the New START agreement for five years. There are other areas in this matter of strategic stability, arms control, where we may find ways to work together. But that is not going to stop us from standing up strongly in a united way with our allies and partners when Russia commits aggressive acts”.

Turkey is an important member of NATO and it’s buying defense weapons from Russia. Is this destabilising the alliance?

“It’s no secret that we have a real difference with Turkey on that. Something that I expressed directly to my Turkish counterpart when I saw him and other allies have done the same. It’s also true that Turkey is a longstanding and very valuable ally that works together with us on very important objectives, including counterterrorism, including dealing with Syria and in other areas. So I think we have an interest in continuing to work closely with Turkey without, at the same time, ignoring our differences. So we engage them directly. We have very frank and clear and open conversations. And I hope Turkey will take some action to deal with the problems that, for example, the S-400s pose for the alliance”.

Do you think Turkey is listening? There’s instability in the Eastern Mediterranean, what do you think about that?

“I think we’ve seen some de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean. I think NATO’s playing a very good role in trying to deconflict and make sure that the areas where there are disputes, no one is taking provocative actions, starting with Turkey keeping their ships out of waters or areas that are claimed by others. We need to simply see the peaceful resolution of these differences according to international law. And by the way, to the extent that there are challenges over resources, over natural resources, you know, this should actually be a way of bringing countries together. The joint use of these resources, the joint investments, exploitation of them, that can actually be something that brings countries together. Our hope is that that’s exactly what will happen”.

What about Nord Stream 2? You’ve ruffled a lot of feathers in Germany by saying that it will undermine Ukraine and you want the Europeans to stop it. But the pipeline is virtually done. Would you be willing to reach a compromise?

“Look, what’s important first and foremost is that Germany is one of our closest allies and partners anywhere in the world. And we are working together every single day on so many issues that have a profound impact on the lives of our citizens and working as the closest partners. And the fact that we have a disagreement over Nord Stream 2, and it’s a real one, is not affecting and will not affect the overall partnership and relationship. But we’ve been very clear. President Biden has been very clear that he thinks that Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea and a bad deal for Europe, for us, for the alliance. It undermines basic EU principles in terms of energy security and energy independence. It, I think, poses a challenge to Ukraine, to Poland, to other countries that we care about. So I thought it was just very important for me to be able to say that directly and clearly to my friend Heiko Maas so that there’s no ambiguity. And the fact is we have laws in the United States that require us to sanction companies that are materially helping to build the pipeline. So I just wanted to make sure that our partners understood our position on this and what we would need to do going forward. And so that’s what we did”.

Europe is in serious crisis mode because of the pandemic. It’s dealing with a lack of supply of vaccines and a year of lockdowns that are devastating economies. What can the US do?

“Look, this has been obviously a huge historic challenge for all of us in the United States. We’ve lost more than 500 000 people to this pandemic. I know the devastation and difficulty that it’s brought to Europe and the profound effect that it’s having on people’s lives. Look, we’re committed to being a very strong international partner, an international leader in dealing with this. Just about 10 days ago, in partnership with the so-called QUAD countries with Australia, Japan and India, we have an initiative that’s going to dramatically increase over time access to vaccines. We’ve made some vaccines available to our close neighbours, Mexico and Canada, and I anticipate that in the weeks ahead you’ll see more of that”.

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