Antony Blinken tells State Dept. diplomats: It’s ‘a new day for the world’


Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Iran must act first if it wants to salvage the troubled 2015 nuclear deal, suggesting the Biden administration will not ease sanctions until Tehran has halted uranium enrichment activities that violate the Obama-era accord.

Talking with reporters on his first full day on the job Wednesday, Mr. Blinken stopped short of laying out explicit preconditions for talks with the Iranian, saying that the Biden administration will reciprocate only “if Iran comes back into full compliance.”

Iranian officials are demanding the U.S. immediately lift sanctions reimposed after President Trump pulled out of the deal, suggesting Washington and Tehran may find it difficult to meet Mr. Biden’s goal of restoring the original deal.

Mr. Blinken said his team is engaged in a full-scale review of major foreign policy actions by the previous administration late in Mr. Trump’s term, including on Iran, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Yemen and the so-called Abraham Accords between Israel and several major Arab nations.

Mr. Blinken also announced that the department next week will resume daily news briefings, which fell by the wayside former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had an often contentious relationship with the press.

The new secretary of state confirmed he was looking particularly at the Trump administration’s eleventh-hour decision to designate the Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a move aid groups say could exacerbate a massive humanitarian crisis sparked by that country’s civil war.

“It’s vitally important, even in the midst of this crisis, that we do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen who are in desperate need,” Mr. Blinken said.

One Trump administration appointee who will stay on at the State Department is Afghan special negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, who helped pushed through a U.S.-Taliban accord last year that cleared the way for talks between the insurgent movement and the U.S.-backed Kabul government.

The Biden administration has begun a review of the Afghan peace process, but Mr. Blinken revealed Wednesday that he had asked Mr. Khalilzad to stay on to “continue the vital work he’s doing.”

On the Middle East, Mr. Blinken said the Biden administration hopes to build on the Abraham Accords that have eased Israel’s regional isolation, but added his team is still trying to determine what commitments were made by the Trump administration in nailing down the agreements.

Critics claim the Trump administration resorted to costly quid pro quo deals to win the support of the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco — including major arms sales and recognition of Morocco’s long-disputed sovereignty claims to broad areas of the Western Sahara. 

“We’re trying to make sure that we have a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements,” he said.

Mr. Blinken said the Biden administration is also reviewing a range of recent developments on Russia, including the SolarWinds hack of U.S. government and private computer systems that has blamed on Moscow, the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the suppression of recent nationwide protests.

“We have a deep concern for Mr. Navalny’s safety and security,” the secretary of state said. “The larger point is that his voice is the voice of many, many, many Russians and it should be heard, not muzzled.”

Mr. Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have already struck a quick deal on something the Trump administration resisted — a five-year extension of the current New START arms control deal, an agreement that brought some criticism from congressional Republicans who said the deal should have been improved and expanded.

Mr. Blinken repeated his sharp criticisms of China’s treatment of its ethnic Uighur minority, endorsing a Trump administration finding that the repression campaign amounted to genocide.

More broadly, he suggested the Biden administration will keep in place the Trump administration’s tougher line on China and trade, while noting there are chances for Washington and Beijing to work together on issues such as climate change.

Mr. Blinken’s comments on Iran suggest the U.S. will face tricky questions of timing and verification if Mr. Biden is serious about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. A top Iranian diplomat said Monday by saying the ball is now in the Biden administration’s court to make a move, likely by lifting those sanctions, if it wants to breathe new life into the nuclear deal.

“President Biden has been clear in saying that, if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the [nuclear deal], the United States would do the same thing,” Mr. Blinken said, calling the deal a “platform” for the U.S. and its allies to address other troublesome Iranian policies.

“But we are a long ways from that point,” the secretary of state said.

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