New US Secretary of State Blinken outlines Biden foreign policy on Middle East

Ahram Online , Tuesday 9 Feb 2021

The new US top diplomat Antony Blinken discussed with CNN Washington's new approach to pressing issues in Iran, Yemen, Palestine and Syria

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed on Monday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview how President Joe Biden’s foreign policy approach to the Middle East could differ from former president Donald Trump’s.

On Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, Blinken said “if Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing, and then we would work with our allies and partners to try to build a longer and stronger agreement.”

Blinken added that Washington will “bring in some of these other issues, like Iran’s missile program, and its destabilising actions in the region that need to be addressed as well.”

“The problem we face now is that in recent months, Iran has lifted one restraint after another — they were being held in check by the agreement,” Blinken said. 

“We got out of the agreement, Iran started to lift the various restraints in the agreement, and the result is they are closer than they’ve ever been to having the capacity on short order to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”

“So, the first thing that’s so critical is for Iran to come back into compliance with its obligations. They’re a ways from that. But if they do that, the path of diplomacy is there, and we’re willing to walk it” Blinken continued.

“They need to come back to compliance, and if they do, we will look to do the same thing.”

On the US support for the Saudi and Emirati military operations in Yemen, Blinken said, “on Yemen itself, three things are critical. One, we are ending our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Second, as we are doing that, we are also deeply committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, aggression directed at it from the Houthis. So those two points are very critical. The third point, though, is equally important.  Even as we are getting out of supporting the military campaign, we are leaning into playing a leading role and an active role in the diplomacy to try to actually end the war.”

The US president has recently appointed a senior special envoy to deal with Yemen.

“We need to lean into this. This is by most accounts the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and that’s saying something right now — millions of people are living in a very, very desperate situation. Ending the war is the critical thing to actually improving their lot and their situation,” Blinken said.

Blinken applauded the Abraham Accords, which were recently signed by Israel and four Arab states under Trump’s auspices.

Blinken said “this is an important step forward. Whenever we see Israel and its neighbors normalising relations, improving relations, that’s good for Israel, it’s good for the other countries in question, it’s good for overall peace and security, and I think it offers new prospects to people throughout the region through travel, through trade, through other work that they can do together to actually materially improve their lives.”

“But that doesn’t mean that the challenges of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians go away. They don’t. They’re still there. They’re not going to miraculously disappear, and so we need to engage on that.  But in the first instance, the parties in question need to engage on that,” Blinken added.

“The hard truth is we are a long way, I think, from seeing peace break out and seeing a final resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state. In the first instance now, it’s do no harm.”

“We’re looking to make sure that neither side takes unilateral actions that make the prospects for moving toward peace and a resolution even more challenging than they already are.  And then hopefully we’ll see both sides take steps that create a better environment in which actual negotiations can take place,” Blinken concluded.

Blinken on Monday stopped short of endorsing the Trump administration's recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel, instead noting that the territory was important for Israel's security.

Former President Trump officially granted US recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory in 2019 - a dramatic shift from decades of U.S. policy. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move that is not recognized internationally.

"As a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security," Blinken told CNN. "Legal questions are something else and over time if the situation were to change in Syria, that's something we look at, but we are nowhere near that."

He added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government as well as the presence of militia groups backed by Iran pose a 'significant security threat' to Israel.

Biden’s advisers had said previously that he would not withdraw US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

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