US prepared to ‘stand up’ to Moscow, says secretary of State

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is prepared to “stand up” to Russia over a host of threatening actions and called on China to allow international inspectors to probe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, in his first television interview that aired Monday.

Blinken touched on key foreign policy concerns in an interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, in particular the Biden administration’s aim to extend a key nuclear arms treaty with Moscow while also addressing Russia’s role in actions threatening U.S. security.

“We have to be able to do two things at the same time,” Blinken said, referring to the U.S. pursuit of a five-year extension on the New START nuclear arms treaty while also weighing actions to respond to a number of alleged actions that Russia committed against the U.S.

This includes the SolarWinds hack, reported Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, election interference and the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, which the U.S. has blamed on the Russian internal security services.

“We’re looking into all of these things. All of them are under review. And depending on the findings of those reviews, we will take steps to stand up for our interests and stand against Russian aggressive actions,” Blinken said, adding that President Biden raised all these concerns in a call last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The secretary further called it a “mistake” for Moscow to try and allege U.S. interference in anti-corruption protests that are sweeping Russia, condemning the arrests of thousands of peaceful protesters.

“The Russian government makes a big mistake if it believes that this is about us. It’s not. It’s about them,” he said.

The protests broke out after Navalny’s arrest by Russian authorities upon his return to Moscow after recovering from the poisoning attack. The U.S., in a joint statement with G7 countries last week, condemned Navalny’s arrest as “politically motivated.”

On Iran, Blinken called for the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and warned that Iran’s continued breach of the agreement is shortening the time-span for them to achieve a nuclear weapon to a “matter of weeks.”

Former President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA in 2018 and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran in an effort to force negotiations for a stricter deal over its nuclear program and other actions the U.S. and international community views as threatening — including its ballistic missile program and funding for terrorism and proxy-fighting forces.

Iran has remained in the JCPOA but has reportedly breached the agreement’s uranium enrichment cap of 3.67 percent to 20 percent, shortening the time it would take to make enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

“The agreement of the infamous JCPOA pushed that to beyond a year,” Blinken said of the constraints on uranium enrichment. He added that the problem “could get more acute because if Iran continues to lift some of these restraints imposed by the agreement, that could get down to a matter of weeks.”

President Biden has said the U.S. is prepared to return to the deal if Iran reverses course on its uranium enrichment and returns to compliance with the JCPOA.

On China, Blinken said Beijing poses “the most significant challenge” to the U.S. than any other country, and said the administration is focusing on rebuilding alliances to counter China’s pursuit of dominance on the global stage.

“We have to be able to approach China from a position of strength, not weakness. And that strength I think comes from having strong alliances, something China does not have, actually engaging in the world and showing up in these international institutions,” he said.

Asked if China should be held accountable for the spread of COVID-19, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, Blinken called on Beijing to be more transparent in allowing an international investigation to determine the origins of the virus.

He said failure to do so would require a response from the U.S.

“China has to step up and make sure that it is being transparent, that it is providing information and sharing information, that it is giving access to international experts and inspectors. Its failure to do that is a real problem that we have to address,” he added. 

Tags Antony Blinken China Donald Trump Iran Russia SolarWinds Vladimir Putin

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