Photo Credit: US State Department; Pete Souza / White House
President-elect Joe Biden's picks Antony Blinken and Avril Haines

Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden nominee for Secretary of State, on Tuesday said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he intends to keep the US embassy at the spot where it had been relocated by President Donald Trump.

In response to the question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): “Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?” Blinken said, “Yes and yes,” to which Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC) responded: “We’re off to a good start here.”


Blinken, as well as Biden’s pick for defense secretary Lloyd Austin, and Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, said they were going to depoliticize their departments, rebuild morale, and undo what they described as the damage done by the Trump administration. But Jerusalem appeared to be a notable exception.

Blinken supports a two-state solution, and told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution.” However, he qualified his statement, saying “realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

Blinken acknowledged Trump’s achievements with the Abrahamic Accords and said he would build on the peace between Israel and four states in the Gulf and Africa.

On Iran, however, Blinken’s message was not received well on both sides of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, namely Sen. Jim Risch (R-Id) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Blinken supported a return to the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, provided Iran come back into compliance with the requirements of said deal.

“We would use that as a platform with our allies and partners, who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement,” Blinken said, but noted that he would push Trump’s demands regarding curbing Iran’s ballistic missile program and its terror operations through proxy militias in many parts of the Middle East.

“We’re a long way from there,” Blinken said, and made clear he had no plan to ease Trump’s sanctions against Iran without its compliance.

Blinken told the senators that President Trump “was right” to take a “tougher approach to China,” adding, “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.” He agreed with Trump’s assertion that China had lied to the entire world about the coronavirus, and committed genocide against Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

In his confirmation hearing statement, Blinken said:

Both the president-elect and I believe that we have to restore Congress’s traditional role as a partner in our foreign policymaking. In recent years, across administrations of both parties, Congress’s voice in foreign policy has been diluted and diminished. That doesn’t make the executive branch stronger, it makes our country weaker. We’ll engage the world, not as it was, but as it is, a world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry from China and Russia and other authoritarian states, mounting threats to a stable and open international system, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives, especially in cyberspace. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and to stand up for democracy and human rights. President-elect Biden is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. And we share, I know, that goal across this committee. I also believe that

President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one. And I think that’s actually helpful. We can out-compete China and remind the world that a government of the people, for the people can deliver for its people.

Avril Haines told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that the Biden administration would consult with Congress on the Iran deal before joining it again, and shared several senators’ concerns on Iranian terrorism and its ballistic missile program. “Obviously the president-elect has indicated that if Iran were to come back into compliance, that, that he would direct that we do so as well,” Biden’s pick for Director of National Intelligence said. “And I think frankly we’re a long way from that.”

Haines told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) that “one of the first things I’d like to do is send the clear message to the intelligence community that we are expected to produce apolitical, unvarnished intelligence to the president-elect, to his senior advisers. The president himself expects that and will expect the intelligence community to provide information regardless of whether or not he wants to hear it.”

Haines said US intelligence agencies should focus more on China: “China is a challenge to our security, to our prosperity, to our values across a range of issues and I do support an aggressive stance.” And she added that her position on China “is more assertive than where we had been in the Obama-Biden administration.”

Altogether, it looks like the Biden team has learned a thing or two from Trump after all.


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