Biden administration to engage with Israel, Gulf states on Iran policy

Blinken noted that in his opinion, the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was succeeding in blocking Iran's pathways to producing material for nuclear weapons.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaks on Syria at the White House in Washington. September 9, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaks on Syria at the White House in Washington. September 9, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anthony Blinken, US President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, said that when it comes to Iran policy, it is vitally important that the incoming administration “engage on the takeoff, not the landing, with our allies and with our partners in the region, to include Israel and to include the Gulf countries.”
Blinken, addressing a question from Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was under scrutiny as part of his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
“President-elect Biden is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Iran with a nuclear weapon, or on a threshold of having one, would be Iran that is even more dangerous than it already is when it comes to all of the other malicious activities that it has engaged in, whether it is support for terrorism; whether it is fueling and feeding its proxies; whether it is destabilizing the region.”
He went on to say that Iran with a nuclear weapon or with the threshold capacity to build one is an Iran that potentially would act with even greater impunity than it already does.
“I think we have an urgent responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent Iran from acquiring [the] weapon or getting close to the capacity to having the material to break out on short notice,” said Blinken.
Blinken noted that in his opinion, the 2015 nuclear agreement – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – with Iran was succeeding in blocking Iran’s pathways to producing material for nuclear weapons.
“It also featured the most intrusive inspections and monitoring regime in the history of arms control,” he said.
“The challenge we face now is that we pulled out of the agreement. Iran is now taking steps to undo the various constraints that were imposed on it by the agreement: It has increased a stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It is now enriching at a higher level. It is deploying centrifuges in ways that were prohibited under the agreement,” he continued.
“Based on public reporting, the result is that the breakout time, the time it would take Iran to produce enough material for one weapon, has gone from beyond a year, as it was under the JCPOA, to about three or four months, based at least on public reporting. And that potentially brings us right back to the crisis point that we were reaching before the deal was negotiated.”
He addressed the chances that the incoming administration would return to the agreement. “The [then-] president-elect believes that if Iran comes back into compliance, we would, too,” Blinken said. “But we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners, who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement.”
He said that such an agreement should “capture these other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran’s destabilizing activities; that would be the objective.”
“Having said that, I think we’re a long way from there,” he added. “We would have to see, once the president-elect is in office, what steps Iran actually takes and is prepared to take, and we would then have to evaluate whether they were actually making good. If they say they’re coming back into compliance with their obligations and then we’ve taken it from there.”
SPEAKING ABOUT the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blinken said that the two-state solution, “however distant it may appear, is still the best and probably the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course, to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled.
“I hope that the progress that was made with the Abraham Accords, which I applaud – the steps that countries are taking to normalize relations with Israel is an extremely positive development and one that we would hope to build on, if given the opportunity,” Blinken added. “I hope that also might create a greater sense of confidence and security in Israel as it considers its relationship with the Palestinians, because whether we like it or not, whether they like it or not, it’s not just going away.”
The nominee for secretary of state also expressed Biden’s commitment to keeping the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
He also addressed questions about the US-China relationship and said he believes former president Donald Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China – even if he does not agree with all his methods – and endorsed the assessment that it was committing genocide in Xinjiang.
Blinken told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to the US of any nation and added that he believes there is a very strong foundation to build a bipartisan policy to stand up to Beijing.
Asked whether he agrees with former secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s assessment on Tuesday that China was committing genocide against minority Muslims, Blinken replied: “That would be my judgment, as well.”
China denies accusations of abuse.
Blinken said the United States under Biden, who took office Wednesday, would uphold the US commitment to ensure that self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province, has the ability to defend itself against aggression.
He also said he would like to see Taiwan play a greater role around the world. Blinken said that in international organizations that do not require the status of a country, Taiwan should become a member, and in others that do, “there are others ways that they can participate.”
Blinken said Washington’s own engagement with Taiwan should be looked at, and referred to a move by Pompeo to relax restrictions on official dealings with Taipei.
“That’s being done,” he said, adding: “We’re going to take a hard look at those pursuant to the Taiwan Assurance Act.”
Blinken said under President Xi Jinping, China had abandoned decades of “hiding their hand and biding their time in terms of asserting their interests beyond China’s borders.
“I think that what we’ve seen in recent years, particularly since the rise of Xi Jinping as the leader, has been that the hiding and biding has gone away,” he said.
“They are much more assertive in making clear that they seek to become, in effect, the leading country in the world, the country that sets the norms, that sets the standards, and to put forward a model they hope other countries and people will ascribe to.”
Blinken said it was the obligation of the US “to demonstrate that the vision we have, the policies we pursue, and the way we do it, is much more effective in actually delivering for our people, as well as for people around the world, to make sure that our model is the one that carries the day.”