On January 26, the Senate confirmed Antony J. Blinken to serve as Secretary of State in the Biden administration. At his January 19 Senate nomination hearing, Blinken spoke about how he and the administration plan to approach global democracy promotion and certain Middle East issues. Here’s a selection of these remarks.
Democracy and human rights:
- “We can revitalize our core alliances – force multipliers of our influence around the world. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.”
- “[President Biden] has been very clear that our charge would be to put democracy and human rights back at the center of American foreign policy and we intend to do just that: that is a question of resources, a question of focus, a question of commitment. Of course, a lot of this begins at home. Our ability to be a strong leader for and defender of democracy and human rights also depends to a large extent on the strength of our own democracy here at home, and as we’ve already discussed, we have some work to do on that account.”
- “One of the goals that [Biden] has set for us is to try and convene a summit of democracies within the first year of his administration to bring democratic countries together, to think together, both about some of the challenges that we face at home that are common to democracies including rising populism, but also to think about a common agenda as we are dealing with the work of defending and advancing democracy around the world: to include combating corruption, to include standing up more effectively for human rights, to include having a united voice in calling out abuses of democracy or abuses of human rights. This is something that I hope we’ll be able to put together towards the end of this year and something that we would very much welcome the participation of Members of Congress and, particularly, members of this committee.”
- “We are very clear-eyed [about Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] and the bottom line is that Turkey is an ally that…is not acting as an ally should. This is a very, very significant challenge for us and we are very clear-eyed about it.”
- “I’ve looked at some of the so-called CAATSA [Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] sanctions. I think that what Turkey has done as a NATO ally in acquiring the S-400s is unacceptable. The idea that a strategic, so-called strategic partner of ours would be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors, in Russia, is not acceptable. I think we need to take a look at and see the impact that the sanctions have had to determine whether there is more that needs to be done.”
- “[Biden] has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. I think we will work on that in very short order…For the reasons that you’ve cited, we have seen Yemen become the worst humanitarian situation in the world. And, of course, as we were discussing earlier, the Houthis bear significant responsibility for what’s happened in Yemen, but the way the campaign has been conducted has also contributed significantly to that situation.”
- “We of course…have a partnership with Saudi Arabia. We, I believe, should do what we need to do to help defend Saudi Arabia against aggression directed at Saudi Arabia, including from Yemen and from the Houthis…But, again, as you’ve said, we have real concerns about some of the policies that our Saudi partners have pursued and accordingly, [President Biden] has said that we will review the entirety of the relationship to make sure that as it stands, it is advancing the interests and is respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership.”
The Trump administration’s Houthi terrorism designation:
- “…We need to be clear-eyed about the Houthis. They overthrew a government in Yemen. They engaged in a path of aggression through the country, they directed aggression toward Saudi Arabia. They have committed atrocities and human rights abuses and that is a fact. What is also a fact is that the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen that has pushed back against the Houthi aggression has contributed to, what is by most accounts, the worst humanitarian situation that we face anywhere in the world. One aspect of that situation is that about 80 percent of the population right now is in areas controlled by the Houthis. Whether we like it or not, we have to find ways to get assistance to them if we’re going to do anything about addressing this situation.
…So my concern, my deep concern about the designation that was made is that, at least on its surface, it seems to achieve nothing particularly practical in advancing the efforts against the Houthis and to bring them back to the negotiating table, while making it even more difficult than it already is to provide humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it. So I think we would propose to review that immediately to make sure that what we are doing is not impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance even under these difficult circumstances. I recognize that some have talked about carve-outs for American providers of humanitarian assistance––the problem there is that the carve outs don’t apply to everyone around the world. They are not going to get the job done because most of the humanitarian assistance provided to Yemen is not coming from the United States––it is coming from other countries. So I think we’ve got a very specific and concrete problem that we need to address very quickly if we’re going to make sure we do everything we can to alleviate the suffering of the people in Yemen.”
- “There are a number of things that the Trump administration did beyond our borders that I would applaud…The Abraham Accords, absolutely. Now, there are certain commitments that may have been made in the context of getting those countries to normalize relations with Israel that I think we should take a hard look at—and I imagine the committee feels the same way—but the work that was done to push forward on normalization with Israel I applaud, makes Israel safer, and the region safer. I hope we can build on that.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion Iran is al-Qaeda’s “new home”:
- “…That’s something I intend to look into…very, very promptly. I haven’t had a chance to see what the underlying basis is for that but it is something we have to take seriously. Al-Qaeda leadership has been in Iran for some time. At various points, it did not have freedom of movement; at other times, it may have had the leash taken off a little bit…I have to look at what’s underneath that.”
*All links have been added by POMED for context and were not present in Secretary Blinken’s original testimony or remarks.
Seth Binder is POMED’s advocacy officer. He is on Twitter @seth_binder.
Insiya Raja and Ayah Abdelwahab are POMED policy interns.