What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

America’s top diplomat faces challenges on multiple fronts

The nation's top diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, spent his first full day on the job Wednesday. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the changes the Biden administration is making on the international stage.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the nation's top diplomat spent his first full day on the job. And Secretary of State Tony Blinken also spoke to the press.

    And our Nick Schifrin was watching.

    So, hello, Nick.

    There was a lot of conversation today about the Middle East. Tell us how this administration is changing its approach from the Trump administration.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, earlier today, the State Department announced a pause on arms sales. That includes the F-35s that the Trump administration negotiated to the United Arab Emirates to facilitate normalization with Israel and American weapons Saudi Arabia used in Yemen to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

    Now, Blinken said that that pause was routine. But he also said, of all of the late moves by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he was most concerned about the designation of the Houthis as an international terrorist organization, over the objections of humanitarians.

    Secretary of State, Tony Blinken: We have seen a campaign led by Saudi Arabia that has also contributed to what is, by many estimates, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, and that's saying something.

    And so it's vitally important, even in the midst of this crisis, that we do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen, who are in desperate need. And what we want to make sure is that any steps we are taking do not get in the way of providing that assistance.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That criticism of Saudi Arabia is a break from the Trump administration, especially as the Biden team wants to negotiate with Iran, over the objections of Saudi Arabia, Israel and congressional Republicans.

    But the Biden team argues the priority must be to extend the time that Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon, if it made that decision. That time dropped since the Trump administration left the Iran nuclear deal. And the bible team argues that, after that nuclear deal is reestablished, then the U.S. and Iran can discuss other issues.

    But, Judy, domestic opposition in both countries is going to make that extremely difficult, as Blinken admitted today.

  • Sec. Tony Blinken:

    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. So, we're not there yet.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Another reason, Judy, why this may take a long time, the Biden administration plans on negotiating with Congress, European allies, and partners in the Middle East before negotiating with Iran.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then on Afghanistan, Nick, Secretary Blinken announced that the Biden team will keep the Trump administration's envoy on Afghanistan.

    Tell us the significance of that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, that is Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been leading the U.S. negotiations with the Taliban.

    He, of course, made the deal with the Taliban last year that, if the Taliban negotiated seriously with the Afghan government and did not attack U.S. troops, then the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan completely by March.

    But the Biden White House has said it is reviewing that agreement. The Pentagon says it is reviewing recent drawdowns from Afghanistan, Judy, both hints that the Biden administration may not follow through with that promised withdrawal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, when it comes to China, we know confronting China was one of the most prominent policies to come out of the Trump administration. Tell us what Secretary Blinken had to say about that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, today, Secretary Blinken said the U.S.-China relationship had — quote — "adversarial and competitive aspects."

    But he also said that the U.S. wanted to work with China, especially on climate change. And that opening for cooperation, that's a little different than what Mike Pompeo used to say.

    Reporters also asked about another late Trump administration decision, and that is to name the Uyghurs — that is a Muslim minority in Western China who has been systematically and brutally persecuted by the Chinese communist government — as victims of genocide.

    Today, during questioning by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the U.N. nominee, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that that declaration was under review.

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

    What they are doing horrific. And I look forward to seeing the results of the review that is being done, but, certainly, it…

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    Well, the State Department issued a designation, I believe, on the president's last day.

    So, is it your understanding that it's now being reviewed by the State Department to see if that's appropriate?

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

    I think the State Department is reviewing that now, because all of the procedures were not followed. And I think that they're looking to make sure that they are followed to ensure that that designation is held.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, today, Blinken said he did support the genocide declaration, that he hadn't seen what Thomas-Greenfield said, and so he couldn't comment on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, finally, overall, how would you say the message from the Trump — from the Biden administration is different from that of the Trump administration?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, for Blinken, it was tone and relationship with the press, America first replaced with a conversation about how important allies are, and enemies of the people replaced with, well, praise for the media, a promise for Blinken to speak to us often and return to daily briefings.

    That, Judy, perhaps more than any one policy, is the reason that Blinken appeared at the podium at the State Department on his first full day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Already a significant change.

    Nick Schifrin reporting on it all.

    Thank you, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment