Washington – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sacked his first month of detention by flouting diplomacy.
As part of his effort to re-energize the US coalition over the Trump years, Mr. Blinken has spoken with dozens of his counterparts around the world and attended gatherings of Asian and European leaders – all in their sevenths ever State Department except floor office.
As the world struggles to bring the coronovirus epidemic under control, most diplomatic travel remains postponed. In normal times, Mr. Blinken would have hosted a stream of visitors and had entered thousands of air miles by now; Instead, he relied on telephone and video screens, like zoom-dependent workers everywhere.
“It is a good thing that we are here at the State Department on the family’s plan, otherwise I would have broken up,” Mr. Blinken told NPR this month.
There is desperation behind the jokes though. Mr. Blinken and President Biden say the United States poses a major challenge in re-establishing American leadership against rivals such as China and Russia and restoring U.S. leadership facing threats such as climate change and a nuclear Iran.
Although Mr. Blinken has been vaccinated against coronoviruses, State Department officials say he is cautious about his overseas travels, including aides, security personnel, support staff and journalists, many of whom have contracts or outbreaks There will be risk Virus. Mr Blinken currently has no travel plans, and a senior administration official said he cannot take to the air before April – though even that time is uncertain.
Former government officials and diplomacy experts say that, there is an undeniable obstacle, especially in the moment of such flow in the world. A lot of business can be done through phone calls and video meetings. But diplomats say proximity is a familiar breed that can be seriously distracted by body language, eye contact and handshakes, shared meals, cultural events, exchange of gifts and hallway encounters, outdoor walks and other moments , Agenda-clutching aides. .
For example, Mr. Blinken was unable to make an appearance as an individual at the annual Munich Security Conference, a forum last week to speak, scholarship, ratify and ratify trans-Atlantic bonds for American and European elites Was staged for On Monday, he made a video call with the ministers of foreign affairs of the European Union.
In ordinary times, those events “could be part of a broader Europe trip to include at the Munich Security Conference and a trip to NATO”, said Catherine Klüver Ashbrook, a future diplomacy project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science Executive Director of. And international affairs.
In this moment of reinforcement, particularly for trans-Atlantic relations, one “has the opportunity to be lost on this occasion,” she said, not least because of the many meetings that take place around the Munich incident.
“You think of all the pictures from the summit, where the leaders are leaning on each other,” Ms. Clover Ashbrook said. “This is where the real detail is ironed.”
The current deadlock is notable compared to Mr. 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 trip during the epidemic. But the agenda for that visit was part of an overall business-as-usual ethos towards the virus, which was criticized by health experts. And this is by no means a halted trip, which came with predictable results. For example, after returning from meetings in London and Paris in October, Mr Pompeo’s director of policy planning tested positive for coronoviruses, raising colleagues at their potential risk.
The beginning of the tenure of the chief diplomat is usually a moment for a particularly ambitious visit.
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 that the United States urgently needed to replicate diplomatic seeds worldwide. By mid-February, Mrs. Clinton was airing for Japan, China, South Korea and Indonesia. A few weeks later, he visited the Middle East before attending a NATO foreign ministers’ conference in Brussels in early March, then met with Russia’s foreign minister in Geneva before moving to Turkey.
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In early April, Mrs. Clinton visited 15 countries as well as West Bank Ramalla.
It is not only Mr. Blinken who is on the field, but his extensive team. (Mr. Biden also has no plans to travel abroad anytime soon, the White House says.) Secretary of State John Kerry, a former foreign minister known for his unyielding hunger for foreign travel, has yet to land Left and they have no special plans. to do this. The same thing has been said for Mr. Blinken’s Iranian envoy, Robert Malle, who will likely cease to clash with allied countries between Europe and the Middle East.
In contrast, President Barack Obama’s special envoys to the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan almost invaded the road in 2009.
Timothy A., State Department envoy for anti-war Yemen. Lendering is an exception, leaving on Monday for his second visit to Saudi Arabia in search of a Yemen peace deal. Reminiscent of the complexities of the COVID-era voyage, he went through a mandatory quarantine period after returning from his last trip to the Gulf this month. A senior official said that Mr. Lending’s visit was justified by Yemen’s readiness for relief for the humanitarian disaster, and because he did not need a large retinue.
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State Department officials say this may not be ideal, but virtual diplomacy has its benefits. When Mr. Blinken spoke on the phone last week with the foreign ministers of Australia, India and Japan – who teamed up with the United States known as the Quad, a group formed an alliance against China – he Were able to connect with counterparts thousands of miles away without disruptive travel time and jet lag.
“Of course, it is always better to stay face to face with your foreign counterparts. Nobody wants to live in this world permanently, ”Nicholas Burns, a former Under Secretary and NATO Ambassador. But, he said, “It’s easy. You can do a lot more on lower orders than before. “
Mr Burns said that the Biden team suffered very little by staying home; He argued that the remarks made publicly by Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken signaled a clear break with the Trump era and a return to vigorous multilateral diplomacy.
Many employers are rethinking whether their workers can work from home more regularly after the epidemic, with Mr. Burns suggesting that diplomats need a new approach to the challenge of time-saving travel and coordination programs Appeal may appear. “I think the video summit will remain an option in the future,” he said.
But there are other disadvantages. Journalists will resist an innings of virtual encounters that do not provide the same opportunities for questions that many top-level diplomatic meetings provide.
And then there is the question of securing video meetings. In April, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted an image of a Zoom meeting he was presiding over. People were Quick to note The image included the zoom ID of the meeting, possibly allowing uninvited guests to join.
While senior executives such as Mr. Blinken and Mr. Biden rely on far safer methods than Zoom, they will be complacent, Ms. Clover Ashbrook said.
“We set off the biggest hack of American history with solar power,” he said. “We should give us a break.”