What Antony Blinken Has Said About Key Foreign Policy Issues

President-elect Joe Biden will reportedly appoint former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state, according to several major news outlets citing anonymous sources familiar with transition team discussions.

Bloomberg was the first to report that Blinken, 58, has been given the nod as America's next top diplomat. Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday that Biden would reveal key cabinet picks Tuesday, and Blinken is expected to be among the first nominees.

Blinken served in President Barack Obama's administration as deputy secretary of state and principal deputy national security adviser, and also worked as national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden.

Blinken was central to Obama's foreign policy team, and according to CNN played a central role in responding to Russia's annexation of Crimea and backing for separatists in Ukraine, the raid to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

If confirmed, Blinken will front Biden's vows to revitalize American global leadership, strengthen strained U.S. alliances, and champion democracy and human rights worldwide.

Russia

Blinken has advocated a tough stance on Russia, informed by his experience pushing back on Moscow's invasion and annexation of Ukraine, plus its direction of anti-government militias in eastern Ukraine that are still fighting the Kiev government.

During his time in the Obama administration, Russia also began its extensive support of President Bashar al-Assad's effort to crush opposition in the Syrian Civil War, and the Kremlin continued its program of covert assassinations and meddling abroad.

In 2014, Blinken told a Brookings Institute event that isolating Russia "matters." He explained: "One way President Putin and Russia define power is by the geopolitical influence that Russia is able to obtain. And undermining Russia politically in the international community and isolating it politically diminishes that power."

In September, Blinken warned that countries like Russia and China have benefitted from President Donald Trump's time in office, and are trying to magnify American political polarization. "There's a democratic recession and autocracies from Russia to China are trying to exploit our difficulties," he told CBS News.

Blinken also criticized Trump for being too soft on President Vladimir Putin. "When President Trump stands with Vladimir Putin on the world stage and takes his word about Russia's attacks on our elections over that of our intelligence agencies, that exacerbates the problem," he said.

"When we have a president who is told that Russia may be putting bounties on the heads of our troops in Afghanistan and does nothing—in fact, worse than nothing, by his own acknowledgement, speaking to President Putin at least six times after he got that report and not raising it, not confronting him and even inviting President Putin to Washington and Russia back into the G7—we have a real, fundamental problem."

"A President Biden would be in the business of confronting Mr. Putin for his aggressions, not embracing him," Blinken said. "Not trashing NATO, but strengthening its deterrence."

Still, Blinken said there are some avenues open for cooperation. "The Vice President believes we should extend New START and look for other avenues to advance strategic stability with Russia, even as we confront Mr. Putin's aggressive actions," Blinken told CBS, referring to the landmark nuclear arms control deal that expires next year.

China

Biden has fought hard to deflect criticism that he is too soft on China. The challenge from Beijing has crystallized during Trump's term, and Biden will take office under the assumption that the U.S. needs to push back on Chinese expansionism.

Blinken has said that the U.S. must look for opportunities to cooperate with China, for example on arms control and climate change. In September, Blinken said it is unrealistic to try and entirely cut ties with Beijing, as some in the Trump administration and GOP have advocated.

"Trying to fully decouple, as some have suggested, from China .... is unrealistic and ultimately counter-productive," Blinken said. "It would be a mistake." He suggested Biden would look to deal with China by expanding American alliances.

He has been critical of Trump's China strategy and trade deal with Beijing. "Right now, by every key metric, China's strategic position is stronger and America's strategic position is weaker," Blinken said in September.

In July, he told Bloomberg TV: "The first thing is we have to dig out from a strategic deficit that President Trump has put us in." He accused Trump of helping China to "advance its own key strategic goals" by weakening American alliances, failing to prioritize human rights and undermining U.S. democracy.

Blinken has said a Biden administration will not shy away from pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) abuses. "I think the [former] Vice President would tell you that we have to start by putting ourselves in a position of strength from which to engage China so that the relationship moves forward more on our terms than on theirs," he told CBS.

He also warned that failure to challenge Chinese human rights abuses on Hong Kong could encourage the CCP to be more ambitious elsewhere. "If China is getting signals of impunity, then one's concern is it may think it can do the same with regard to Taiwan," he told Bloomberg TV.

Blinken said Biden would "step up defenses of Taiwan's democracy by exposing Beijing's efforts to interfere." He added: "The irony is Taiwan has been a success story over the last decades in terms of how the U.S. and China have handled it."

North Korea

The Biden administration has vowed to continue America's push for North Korean denuclearization, though most experts believe it highly unlikely that dictator Kim Jong Un will ever give up his nuclear arsenal willingly.

Trump has tried diplomacy combined with sanctions, but has been unable to make any more than superficial progress on North Korea. Blinken told CBS "there was some merit in President Trump throwing the deck of cards up in the air and seeing what came from it, because the fact of the matter is the policy that successive administrations have pursued over the last decades has not worked."

But Blinken said Trump's approach had failed, and said the next administration should look more to arms control than unlikely denuclearization. "The hard reality is it's, if not impossible, highly unlikely that we will achieve, in any near term, the complete denuclearization of North Korea. I just don't see that as realistic in the near term," he said.

"What I think we can get is an arms control and, over time, disarmament process put in place. But that requires enough pressure, sustained and comprehensive to get North Korea to the table.

Iran

The Iran nuclear deal is central to Biden's foreign policy plan. The president-elect wants to rejoin the agreement that Trump withdrew from in 2018 and re-establish diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Blinken was involved in the Obama administration's nuclear deal talks with Iran and is a staunch supporter of the deal, which he said "was working until President Trump tore it up."

Blinken said Biden would "seek to build on the nuclear deal and to make it longer and stronger if Iran returns to strict compliance."

This, he said, would put the U.S. "in a position to use our renewed commitment to diplomacy, to work with our allies, to strengthen and lengthen it—but also we'd be in a much better position to effectively push back against Iran's other destabilizing activities, because we would once again be united with our partners instead of isolated from them."

Afghanistan, Syria

Blinken said in September that Biden has been "very clear" about his stance on America's long-running, unwinnable military deployments in places like Afghanistan and Syria. "He's said that large-scale, open-ended deployment of large, standing U.S. forces in conflict zones with no clear strategy should end and will end under his watch," Blinken told CBS.

But Blinken has also said a Biden administration would be more cautious than Trump, who has pushed ahead on bringing American troops home despite warnings from aides that such moves could undermine U.S. national security.

"He's very focused on the conditions under which you would actually deploy U.S. forces," Blinken said of Biden. "Vital national interests need to be at stake, or maybe it's a commitment to a treaty ally. We'd have to have a clearly-defined strategy and end game. And we need the informed consent of the American people, ideally through their representatives in Congress."

He hinted that American troops would remain deployed, but their footprint perhaps scaled down. "We also need to distinguish between, for example, these endless wars with the large-scale, open-ended deployment of U.S. forces with, for example, discrete, small-scale, sustainable operations, maybe led by Special Forces to support local actors," he said.

"This is something we worked on...through strategy in the Obama-Biden administration, and it actually worked very effectively in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS."

Israel-Palestine

Biden has celebrated the "unshakeable" American commitment to Israeli security, and resisted calls from within his party to take a harder stance over Israeli human rights abuses and continued violation of international law. Though Blinken's support for the Iran deal will cause frustration in the Israeli government, he has been strongly supportive of America's continued alliance with Israel.

"Israel has never been—until now, unfortunately—a partisan political issue," he said in August. "And I think it's very bad for the United States and for Israel that someone tries to turn it into one."

In May, he told a webinar organized by the Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel Democratic group, that Biden would be discrete about his disagreements with the Israeli government.

"Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences—as far as possible—between friends, behind doors, maintaining as little distance in public as possible," he said.

Blinken said a Biden administration would restore U.S. assistance to Palestinian authorities but said it would not condition Israeli aid on its honoring international agreements and the two-state solution. "He is resolutely opposed to it," Blinken said of Biden. "He would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions it makes—full stop."

Blinken, who is Jewish and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, has also said that the "lesson of the Holocaust" has shaped Biden's "career-long support for Israel.

"He believes strongly that a secure Jewish homeland in Israel is the single best guarantee to ensure that never again will the Jewish people be threatened with destruction," he said this month. "That's a profound reason why he'd never walk away from Israel's security, even at times when he might disagree with some of its policies."

anthony blinken, joe biden, secretary of state
Former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit at the Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2016 in New York City. It's been reported that President-elect Joe Biden will appoint Blinken to be his secretary of state. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit/Getty

Correction 11/25/20. This article was updated to correct the spelling of Antony Blinken.