China says Iran’s nuclear problem is at ‘critical point’

The New York Times

Blinken, without leaving home, tries to fix the fences with allies abroad

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his first month in office with an explosion of diplomacy. As part of his effort to revitalize American alliances worn down by the Trump years, Blinken has spoken with dozens of his counterparts around the world and joined meetings of Asian and European leaders, all without leaving his office on the seventh floor. of the State Department. . As the world struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic, most diplomatic trips remain postponed. In normal times, Blinken would have seen a stream of visitors and racked up thousands of air miles by now; instead, it has relied on phone and video screens, as have Zoom’s dependent workers everywhere. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times “It’s good that we’re on the family plan here at the State Department, otherwise I’d be broke,” Blinken told NPR this month. Behind the jokes, however, there is frustration. Blinken and President Joe Biden say the United States faces a Herculean challenge to reestablish ties with key allies, reestablish American leadership against rivals like China and Russia, and confront threats like climate change and a nuclear Iran. Although Blinken has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, State Department officials say they are being cautious about his trips abroad, which involve an entourage of assistants, security personnel, support personnel and journalists, many of whom would be at risk. contracting or spreading the virus. . Blinken currently does not have any trips planned, and a senior administration official said it may not air before the end of March, although even that timeline is uncertain. That, former government officials and diplomacy experts say, is an undeniable disadvantage, especially at a time of such change in the world. Many business can be done through phone calls and video conferencing. But diplomats say the proximity creates a familiarity that cannot be replicated, fueled by body language, eye contact and handshakes, potlucks, cultural events, gifts exchanged, and the chance of encounters in the hallways, walks to the streets. Outdoors and other moments away from neurotic attendees clinging to the agenda. . Blinken, for example, was unable to make an appearance in person at the annual Munich Security Conference, a forum organized virtually last week for American and European elites to speak, chat, strategize and affirm transatlantic ties. On Monday he held a video call with the European Union’s foreign ministers. In normal times, those events could have been “part of a broad trip to Europe to include the Munich Security Conference and a trip to NATO,” said Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, executive director of the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center. for Science from Harvard University. and International Affairs. Missing the events in person “is a missed opportunity at this time to revitalize the transatlantic relationship in particular,” he said, mostly due to the many side meetings that occur around the Munich event. “You think of all the images of the summits, where the leaders lean over each other,” said Clüver Ashbrook. “That’s where the real details work out.” The current stasis is remarkable compared to Blinken’s predecessor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, along with other senior State Department and White House officials during the Trump administration, slowed the pace of his travels during the pandemic. . But that travel schedule was part of a general business spirit as usual towards the virus criticized by health experts, and in no way stopped the trips, which came with predictable results. After returning from meetings in London and Paris in October, for example, Pompeo’s director of policy planning tested positive for the coronavirus, aggravating allies over possible exposure. The beginning of the term of a diplomatic chief is usually a time for particularly ambitious travel. When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state in January 2009, after the Iraq war and President George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy,” she also felt the United States urgently needed to replant diplomatic seeds around the world. In mid-February, Clinton took off for Japan, China, South Korea and Indonesia. A couple of weeks later, he visited the Middle East before attending a NATO foreign ministers’ summit in Brussels in early March, then met with the Russian foreign minister in Geneva before going to Turkey. By early April, Clinton had visited 15 more countries in Ramallah, the West Bank. It is not just Blinken who is grounded, but his team in general. (Biden also has no plans to go abroad anytime soon, the White House says.) Climate envoy John Kerry, a former secretary of state known for his limitless appetite for foreign travel, has yet to leave the country and has no specific plans to do so. so. The same goes for Blinken’s envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, who would otherwise likely be traveling between Europe and the Middle East to converse with his allies. By contrast, President Barack Obama’s special envoys, including some for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, hit the road almost immediately in 2009. An exception is the State Department envoy for war-torn Yemen, Timothy A. Lenderking, who left on Monday for his second trip to the Persian Gulf region in search of a peace deal in Yemen. In a reminder of the complications of COVID-era travel, he underwent a mandatory quarantine period after returning from his last trip to the Gulf this month. A senior official said Lenderking’s trips were justified by the urgency of aid for Yemen’s humanitarian disaster and because he did not require a large entourage. State Department officials say that while it may not be ideal, virtual diplomacy has its benefits. When Blinken spoke by phone last week with the foreign ministers of Australia, India and Japan, who together with the United States make up what is known as the Quad, a group implicitly aligned against China, he was able to connect with his counterparts in the tens of thousands. miles away with no breaks in travel time and jet lag. “Of course, it is always better to be face to face with your foreign counterparts. Nobody wants to live in this world permanently, ”said Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state and NATO ambassador. But, he added, “it’s easier. It can do a lot more in a short time than before. “Burns said that Biden’s team had suffered little by staying home; he argued that Biden and Blinken’s early public comments had signaled a clear break from the Trump era and a return to vigorous multilateral diplomacy.As much as employers are reconsidering whether their employees can work from home more regularly after the pandemic, Burns suggested diplomats could see a new call to save travel time and the challenge of coordinating schedules. “I think video summits will continue to be an option in the future,” he said. But there are other pitfalls. Journalists will protest a shift to virtual meetings that do not provide the same opportunity for questions that many high-level diplomatic meetings offer. And then there’s the question of keeping video conferencing secure.In April, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a picture of a Zoom meeting that he was presiding over. People were quick to note that the image included the meeting ID, which could allow uninvited guests to join. While top officials like Blinken and Biden rely on much safer methods than Zoom, they would be wrong if they were complacent, Clüver Ashbrook noted. “We just came off the biggest stunt in American history with Solar Winds,” he said. “That should give us pause.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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