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New US secretary of state addresses Biden administration priorities, Iran deal

Published: Updated:

The new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday laid out a preliminary list of priorities for the new administration under President Joe Biden, including reviewing last-minute decisions made under the previous administration.

During his first news conference since being confirmed as secretary of state, Blinken touched on the most pressing issues for the US, including the threats from Russia, China and Iran.

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After his public remarks, statements from Blinken’s office said the top diplomat had separate phone conversations with his French, German and British counterparts where they discussed the threats from Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

Afghanistan

One of the more noteworthy announcements made by Blinken was the decision to keep Zalmay Khalilzad as the US special envoy for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad’s work was “vital,” Blinken said, adding that the new US administration would continue to review its policy in Afghanistan. This includes the agreement reached with the Taliban, Blinken said.

Before leaving office, then-US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced that there were only 2,500 American troops left in Afghanistan.

And ahead of starting the peace talks last year, authorities released more than 5,000 Taliban inmates as demanded by the group in the deal with Washington.

In return, the Taliban agreed to give some security guarantees and participate in peace talks to end the country’s war.

Under the landmark deal signed last year, the US pledged to pull out all foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.

Last week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “made clear” the US’ intention to review the agreement, a spokesperson from his office said in a statement.

China

The US relationship with China was “arguably the most important relationship we have in the world,” Blinken said.

But he maintained his previous stance made during his Senate confirmation hearing that the Chinese government was carrying out genocide against Uighur Muslims. The issue was raised during Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations earlier in the day.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield refused to call the crimes a genocide, saying that the State Department would review the Trump administration’s decision. She claimed that not “all of the procedures” were followed by the former administration.

But Blinken said his opinion on the genocide remained unchanged.

He also said that it was in Washington’s interest to cooperate with Beijing on issues such as climate change, though that fit within the larger context of areas of concern that the US has with China.

Gulf

Blinken said there needed to be an “urgent” review of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia’s recent designation as a terrorist organization. The move came under Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo and was heavily criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations despite reassurances that humanitarian aid delivery would not be obstructed.

Blinken’s comments came shortly after the Wall Street Journal reported that the US was putting a freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

But the top US diplomat was quick to downplay the move and suggested not overanalyzing.

“It is typical at the start of an admin to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy,” Blinken said.

Iran

As for the Iran nuclear deal and the now-defunct Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Blinken said there was a way to go before reaching a new agreement.

He also warned that Iran would first need to “come back into full compliance with obligations under the JCPOA” before reciprocity from the US.

“Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. And it would take some time, should it make the decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance and time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations,” he said. “We’re not there yet, to say the least.”

Trump withdrew the US from the deal, which was brokered under former President Barack Obama.

Russia

Blinken took an aggressive stance on Russia, saying that the US administration was studying which actions to take in response to the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

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

Additionally, the US is reviewing what to do in response to the Solar Winds cyberattack, election interference and the alleged bounties placed on American troops in Afghanistan.

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