State Department Recap: October 13-20
Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:
Promoting democracy and managing migration are the focus of Blinken’s first trip to Ecuador and Colombia from October 19 to 21 as top U.S. diplomat. During a speech Wednesday in Quito, Blinken outlined challenges facing democracies in the Western Hemisphere but said he was optimistic they could be overcome.
Venezuela also looms large as the U.S. calls for political talks to resume between the Venezuelan government and the country’s opposition. U.S. officials this week discussed ways to tackle irregular migration, as Colombia hosts nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants, and Ecuador also hosts a large number of migrants from Venezuela.
China also came up during Blinken’s South American trip. Ecuadorian officials described Beijing as “a commercial partner,” with Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso saying he wanted to secure a trade deal with China. Blinken told his Ecuadorian counterpart the U.S. was not asking countries to choose between Washington and Beijing, but he warned of risks of doing business with Chinese companies, saying “there really is no division between purportedly private enterprises and the state.”
US ‘One China’ Policy
Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, took a tough line on dealings with China during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. Burns said the U.S. was right to continue its “one-China policy” but that Washington was also right to oppose China’s unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and undermine the stability of the region. Noticeably, Burns used the wordings of Washington’s so-called one-China “policy,” which is different from Beijing’s one-China “principle.” The U.S. has “acknowledged” but has never endorsed the Chinese Communist Party’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
Colin Powell’s legacy
Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state and a top military officer, died Monday at age 84 from complications due to COVID-19 while battling multiple myeloma.
He is being remembered by America’s foreign service work force, who say Powell was devoted to ensuring the State Department was properly resourced, consulted and respected.
Powell, who shaped lasting U.S. policies toward Africa, also is being remembered on the continent for peacemaking, supporting the fight against AIDS and sounding the alarm against war abuses.
Haitian protesters took to the streets this week to demand the release of 17 missionaries — 16 Americans and 1 Canadian — kidnapped on October 16 by the 400 Mawozo gang. An interagency team dispatched by the U.S. government is working closely with Haitian authorities to try to recover the missionaries. The State Department has raised its travel advisory for Haiti to Level 4: Do Not Travel.
Top US envoy to afghanistan steps down
The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, stepped down from his post this week, less than two months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blinken announced Khalilzad’s departure in a statement Monday, saying the envoy would be replaced by his deputy, Thomas West. Talk of Khalilzad’s resignation had emerged since August after the Afghan Security Forces collapsed and the Taliban rapidly took control over the war-torn country.
The U.S. remains gravely concerned by escalating violence in Tigray.
Forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region said Monday that the Ethiopian government had launched airstrikes on the regional capital, Mekelle. The United States also was looking into the reported attack, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying the U.S. remained “gravely concerned by what has been escalating violence in Tigray for some time.”
China missile test
Top U.S. officials said Washington was paying close attention to China’s efforts to build up its military arsenal, amid reports Beijing took a major step forward two months ago by testing a hypersonic missile. Monday, the State Department said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the rapid expansion of China’s nuclear capabilities, which is deviating from Beijing’s decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.
Iran nuclear deal
Efforts to get Tehran to return to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal are in danger of falling short, forcing the United States and its allies to consider nondiplomatic options to contain the threat, according to top U.S. officials.
The United States will move ahead with its plan to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem as Washington restores ties with the Palestinians and commits to a two-state solution. “As I said in May, we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” Blinken said during a Wednesday press conference. But he stopped short of providing a timeline.