Antony Blinken, 59, is one of U.S. President Joe Biden’s closest confidants. He first worked for Biden as a Senate staffer and then rose to become deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state in Barack Obama’s administration. Blinken is considered a proponent of an active U.S. foreign policy and believes his country has a mandate to strengthen multilateral organizations and defend democracies against authoritarian regimes like Russia or China.
DER SPIEGEL:The most difficult issue between Berlin and Washington at the moment is theNord Stream 2 pipeline. President Biden has made it clear that he opposes the project, yet his administration has waived sanctions against Nord Stream’s operating company as well as its CEO. Why?
Blinken:First, as you know, construction on the pipeline began in 2018. By the time we took office in January of this year, the physical construction of the pipeline was more than 90 percent complete. We went ahead and sanctioned more entities under our law than had ever been sanctioned before, but the reality of the physical completion of the pipeline was such that we looked to see, can we make something out of a very bad hand that we inherited? Because, yes, President Biden has long said that the pipeline is a bad idea, that it will potentially be a tool of Russian economic coercion and strategic coercion, a tool that can be used not only against Ukraine but indeed Europe as a whole to the extent it increases dependence on Russian gas.
DER SPIEGEL:If you look at the Ukraine crisis, it is very clear that the Normandy Format talks, which include France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, have brought little to no progress at all. Was it a mistake on the part of former U.S. President Barack Obama to basically leave the conflict to the Europeans?
Blinken:The U.S. was very engaged in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. We respected the proposition that the Normandy Format would be the central vehicle for trying to advance the Minsk process – the agreements that were reached, which unfortunately have largely not been implemented by Russia over many years – and that this was the best way forward. But we were working as well to try to advance that process. President Biden discussed this with President Putin and, of course, he has discussed it with Chancellor Merkel, with President Macron and others. And what we have said is: Look, if Russia is serious about implementing Minsk and we can be helpful, we are fully prepared to do that, but it really starts with the basic question of whether Russia is serious about it or not or whether it prefers this frozen conflict where it can turn up the heat whenever it feels like it, as it did recently byamassing the largest number of troopson Ukraine’s border since 2014. The real test is whether Russia is serious or not.
DER SPIEGEL:Just before Joe Biden took office, the EU and China agreed on a trade deal that should create new investment opportunities for European companies in China. Did you consider to be an unfriendly gesture on the part of the EU?
Blinken:Look, we are not on trying to contain China or holding China back. We are focused on trying to hold up the free and open rules-based international system that the U.S. and Germany have helped build together and have invested so much in over so many decades. If different aspects of that free and open rules-based system are being challenged by anyone, whether it is China or any other country, then we think it is important to stand up and defend what we built because it has delivered very important results for all of our citizens and can continue to do so. That is the basic approach.
We also recognize that we all have very complicated relationships with China that cannot be summed up in one word or, as we like to say, on a bumper sticker. There are adversarial aspects, competitive ones, cooperative ones, but whether it is any of those three, our proposition is that we are much better off engaging China together. We are going to be much more effective in any of those areas if we are doing it together. That is what we are looking toward.
We want to make sure in any of our engagements with China that we are upholding the basic norms and standards that bring us together, that if we are in a race, it is a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. That goes for the commercial relationship. That goes for the relationship on political and diplomatic issues and so on.