The senior US diplomat spoke to CNN’s Dana Bash in a broad-based ‘State of the Union’ interview in Brussels, where he spoke to NATO and EU officials about issues ranging from Russia to China to Afghanistan.
His comment marks a departure from the heightened rhetoric of his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, and the Trump administration, which called the deadly disease a “Wuhan virus” and called for punishing China.
While Blinken has said they need to be “held to account for the past” and echoed calls from other Biden officials for Beijing to be transparent about the 2019 outbreak, he noted that their “goal must be to build a stronger system for the future ”.
“I think the problem for us is to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent another pandemic even as we work through this one or at the very least to make sure that we can mitigate in a much more effective way. any damage caused if something happens in the future, ”he said.
Blinken told CNN that a big part of preparing for a possible future outbreak “is making sure we have a system in place, including with the World Health Organization, that ensures transparency, sharing. information and access to international experts from the start. of something like that. ”
Blinken expressed concern “about the methodology and process” behind an upcoming WHO report on the origins of the deadly plague “, including that the Beijing government apparently helped write it,” he said, but added “let’s see what will happen. in this report. The WHO investigative team that traveled to Wuhan – where the Covid-19 originated from – said they did not have access to raw data on the disease.
More broadly on China, the senior US diplomat described the relationship as a multi-faceted one, with contradictory, competitive and collaborative aspects, and expressed the importance of working with allies to address the challenges posed by China.
This message of unity underlined Blinken’s stay in Brussels, where he attended the meeting of NATO foreign ministers and met officials from the European Union and his Belgian counterpart.
Consult the allies
On Afghanistan, Blinken told Bash it was important for him to hear from NATO allies as the Biden administration conducts its review of policy on the country and ahead of the deadline of May 1 for the withdrawal of American troops stipulated in the American agreement with the Taliban. Biden said last week that it would be “difficult to meet” that deadline.
“One of the things that was important was not only to share our thinking as we go through this review, including the May 1 deadline, but to listen, to hear from our partners who are so invested, their ideas, their thoughts, their analysis, ”said Blinken. “And that’s exactly what I did. I listened very carefully. I have phoned Washington, spoken to the President to convey the views of our allies and partners and this will take into account his thinking and the decisions he is making. ”
On Russia, whose aggressive behavior is a key concern of both the United States and the NATO alliance, Blinken told CNN that the administration “will take the necessary steps when and when necessary. ‘place of our choice’. He declined to give specific details.
Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill have urged the administration to act more forcefully to prevent the completion of the Russian-German gas pipeline known as Nord Stream 2. The project represents a public point of contention between Berlin and Washington, and Blinken said it was important for him to be able to tell his German counterpart directly that they see the pipeline as a bad deal.
“It gives Russia more of a weapon using energy as a tool of coercion,” he said.
“We just wanted to make sure that there was no ambiguity in our position, that our friends and partners understood us,” said Blinken. “And it’s a real shame that the pipeline is sort of a source of division, but despite this difference again, that doesn’t take away from the fact that, conversely, in all other areas we are working more closely than ever. ”
The Secretary of State, urged by Bash to comment on whether the administration considers Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a killer after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death, said “severing the relationship will not actually help us move forward our interests or values. ”
In February, Biden refused to apply sanctions directly to the crown prince, whom the U.S. intelligence community identified as responsible for Khashoggi’s death, despite vowing to punish senior Saudi officials during the election campaign.
“We must, and we do, deal every day around the world with leaders of countries who do things that we find objectionable or abhorrent. But, to advance our interests and advance our values, it is important to deal with them, ”said Blinken.
“The crown prince is likely to be the ruler of Saudi Arabia in the future. We have a keen interest, for example, in working to end the war in Yemen, possibly the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. This will make sense. engagement of the Saudis, ”he said.