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Blinken’s show of unity with NATO and Europe shadowed by disagreement over gas pipeline

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated his warning Wednesday that the US will consider sanctions if work on a gas pipeline between Russian and Germany is completed and certified — a sole note of discord in an extended display of unity with European allies and NATO states.

“The pipeline divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and central Europe to Russian manipulation and coercion, it goes against Europe’s own stated energy security goals, so what I said was that we will continue to monitor activity to complete and certify the pipeline, and if that activity takes place, we’ll make a determination on the applicability of sanctions,” Blinken said at a press conference in Brussels.

The top US diplomat was in Brussels for meetings with NATO officials and European leaders in a diplomatic blitz to reaffirm the Biden administration’s commitment to its allies; signal to Russia that any aggression will face a unified front, and consult on a slew of issues, including the pressing question of whether to pull US troops from Afghanistan by a May 1 deadline set by the last administration.

Blinken also issued a call for unity in the face of an increasingly assertive China. “There’s no question that China’s coercive behavior threatens our collective security and prosperity and that they are actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share,” he said.

Later on Wednesday, Blinken and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced the US and Europe will launch a dialogue on China at the senior official and expert levels on topics such as reciprocity, economic issues, resilience, human rights, security, multilateralism, and areas for constructive engagement with China, such as climate change.

Borrell said that the two sides share an assessment of China’s role “as a partner, as a competitor and as a systemic rival,” in remarks to reporters after a private meeting. Blinken said they were launching the dialogue “because we know that we can approach Beijing most effectively when we’re working together and coordinating our approaches.”

‘On the same page’

Throughout his two-day visit, Blinken repeatedly emphasized the answer to these threats is for the US and Europe to work together more closely and stressed their unity on several issues, including the ongoing impasse with Iran. Blinken said the US and the so-called E3 — the UK, France and Germany — are “very much on the same page when it comes to Iran.”

Washington has offered to hold talks with Iran about a US return to the 2015 agreement, but the two sides remain at an impasse, with Iran insisting that the US first lift sanctions and return to the deal it left in 2018, while Washington has pushed for mutually coordinated steps and for Iran to stop its steady violations of the pact.

“To date, Iran has chosen not to engage,” Blinken said. “So, as we’ve said, the ball is really in their court to see if they want to take the path to diplomacy and returning to compliance with the agreement.”

“Let’s see what happens in the weeks ahead,” Blinken added.

On Afghanistan, Blinken said that Biden’s upcoming decision on whether to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by a May 1 deadline set by the previous administration will be informed by feedback from NATO allies.

“I relayed back the views that I heard yesterday from our allies to the President, and I think that’s going to be an important factor in informing his thinking about the way forward,” Blinken said. “We went in together, we adjusted together, and, when the time is right, we will leave together.” Blinken said that Biden has noted “it would be tough to meet the May 1 deadline for a full withdrawal, but whatever we end up doing again is going to be informed by the thinking of our allies, and tactical decisions aside, we’re united with those allies.”

One discordant note

The sole discordant note in public was Nord Stream 2, a pipeline from Russian gas fields to Germany via the Baltic Sea that is currently under construction. It is intended to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while giving Russia more direct access to the European market. But as tensions between Russia and the West have risen due to Moscow’s election interference in Europe and the US, its cyberattacks and ongoing occupation of Crimea, resistance to the pipeline has hardened in the US.

“President Biden has been very clear for a long time in his view that Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea,” Blinken said, adding that he shared that view with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. “I also made clear that firms engaged in pipeline construction risked US sanctions,” Blinken said.

State Department officials have stressed that any entity involved in the Russia-Germany natural gas pipeline risks US sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline. Congress passed legislation in 2019 and expanded in 2020 that requires sanctions and has significant support from a bipartisan Congressional majority.


Blinken emphasized the importance of alliances and US-European unity in a speech later Wednesday, stressing the need for a united front against China, and tacitly acknowledged the strains on trans-Atlantic cooperation that developed during the Trump administration.

“Some of our allies are wondering whether our commitment to their security is lasting,” Blinken said. The answer, he said, is that “the vast majority of the American people from both political parties support our alliances, even if they’re divided along party lines on many other issues” because “we see our alliances, not as burdens, but as a way to get help from others in shaping a world that reflects our interests and our values.”

Noting that the world looks very different than it did decades ago when alliances such as NATO were forged, Blinken said that since then, “threats have multiplied. Competition has stiffened. Power dynamics have shifted. Trust in our alliances has been shaken — trust in each other and trust in the strength of our commitments.”

Blinken repeatedly stressed his central message of the Biden administration’s respect and support for its traditional US allies, and how together, they can counter threats to democracy from the rise of increasingly autocratic leaders — an issue in Turkey — and from countries such as Russia and China.

“Across and even within our alliances, we don’t always see eye to eye on the threats we face or how to confront them,” Blinken said. “Our shared values of democracy and human rights are being challenged — not only from outside our countries, but from within.”

Blinken also stressed that no major challenge facing the global community can be dealt with by any one country acting alone. “New threats are outpacing our efforts to build the capabilities we need to contain them,” he said.

“We can’t just play defense — we have to take an affirmative approach. We’ve seen how Beijing and Moscow are increasingly using access to critical resources, markets, and technologies to pressure our allies and drive wedges between us,” Blinken said.

He stressed the dangers of economic coercion, a particular issue with China, saying “we must not separate” it from other forms of pressure and called for even more robust alliances to protect against threats.

“Too often we put our alliances and partnerships into silos, we don’t do enough to bring them together,” Blinken said. Working in unison makes all countries stronger. “We can’t just play defense — we must take an affirmative approach. We’ve seen how Beijing and Moscow are increasingly using access to critical resources, markets, and technologies to pressure our allies and drive wedges between us,” Blinken said.

“When one of us is coerced, we should respond as allies, and work together to reduce our vulnerability, by ensuring our economies are more integrated with each other than they are with our principal competitors,” Blinken added.

Blinken said the US “won’t force our allies into an “us-or-them” choice with China” and said countries can work with Beijing on issues like climate change and health security. “We know that our allies have complex relationships with China that won’t always align perfectly with ours, but we need to navigate these challenges together,” he said.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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