Longtime Biden aide Antony Blinken confirmed as US Secretary of State
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Washington - Antony Blinken, a longtime foreign policy aide to President Joe Biden who has pledged to rebuild American alliances and reinvigorate a State Department beset by low morale, was confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state on Tuesday.
The final vote of 78-22, while an overwhelming win, included nearly half of Senate Republicans voting against Blinken, the most of any of Biden's four confirmed Cabinet picks so far.
The slim majority of GOP lawmakers supporting him included outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho, who praised Blinken's qualifications and called him "the person for the job."
In his confirmation hearing before the committee, Blinken said he was committed to "building a diplomatic corps that fully represents America in all its talent and diversity." Among his first tasks will be advancing recruitment that fell precipitously under the Trump administration and promoting career foreign and civil service officials.
As has Biden, Blinken has said that his other primary goals will be restoring American global leadership and joining with allies on challenges from China to Covid-19.
"Not a single one of the really big problems that we face, whether it is climate change, whether it is the spread of dangerous weapons, whether it's the pandemic disease that we're living through now, not a single one can be met fully by any one country acting alone," Blinken said in a video posted on Twitter after Biden named his as his pick for secretary of state.
Several Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee had delayed a vote on his nomination as they questioned, with a list of nearly 800 written queries, what others said made him most qualified for the job - his long experience in U.S. policy positions, particularly during the Obama administration.
While Blinken awaited confirmation, Biden and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, began calling US partners and allies and moved to renew US membership in the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord. Last week, the administration signalled its intent to renew for five years the New START nuclear arms agreement with Russia that expires next week.
Other issues awaiting early action include Biden's pledge to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, a review of the Trump administration's agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, nascent civil war in Ethiopia and rising tensions with China.
Blinken, 58, is one of the few in history to rise to the job of top diplomat from a beginning in the ranks of the State Department itself. He began there in 1993 as a European specialist before moving to Bill Clinton's National Security Council, where he eventually became senior director for European affairs.
In 2001, with the election of George W. Bush's Republican administration, he moved to the Senate, where he became staff director for the Foreign Relations Committee, on which then senator Biden served as chairman. Under President Barack Obama, he was Biden's chief foreign policy adviser, then deputy national security adviser to the president. From 2015 to 2017, he was deputy secretary of state under John F. Kerry.
In his various incarnations over decades in senior foreign policy positions, Blinken helped formulate Biden's support for the war in Iraq, and Biden's rejected proposal in the Senate to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions.
Pictured in the famous photograph of Obama and his senior national security team advisers listening in real time to the US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Blinken was quoted as saying he had "never seen a more courageous decision made by a leader."
Asked at his confirmation hearing earlier this month whether he backed President Donald Trump's decision to kill Iranian general Qasem Soleimani with a drone strike in January 2020, however, Blinken said the administration failed to consider the consequences, including subsequent attacks on US forces by Iranian-allied militia forces in Iraq.
"No one is shedding a tear for the demise of Qasem Soleimani," Blinken said. But "I think on balance that action actually left us less safe rather than more safe."
Foreign policy has been something of a family business for Blinken, whose father and uncle were US ambassadors, to Hungary and Belgium respectively. His wife, Evan Ryan, was an assistant secretary of state under Obama.
"I had grandparents, parents, who in one way or another were relatively recent immigrants, or refugees or, in the case of my late stepfather, a survivor of the Holocaust," he said in the Twitter video. "And for them, America literally represented the last best hope on Earth."
Their stories of fleeing oppression and violence, to arrive in the United States, he said, "instilled in me a profound passion for what America means to the world, when we're acting at our best. America at its best is why I'm here, why my family was able to come here, and it's something I hope to help restore for future generations."
Much of Blinken's youth was spent in France, where his stepfather, a Polish-born attorney who escaped from a Nazi death march after four years in a concentration camp, was an attorney. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School.
In addition to dabbling in journalism at various times, Blinken was part of a number of youthful rock bands. If confirmed, he said in the Twitter video, he believed he would be the "only secretary of state with a Spotify play list with some of my own work on it."