“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 main reason I’m here and that President Biden asked us to be here this week is to reaffirm strongly, the United States’ commitment to NATO to this alliance, and to our partnerships. We’re determined to revitalize our alliances to revitalize our partnerships,” Blinken said Tuesday in an appearance with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Blinken repeatedly emphasized the need for the US and Europe to work together 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.
“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 is expected to emphasize the importance of alliances and US-European unity in a speech scheduled later Wednesday and acknowledge the strains on trans-Atlantic cooperation that developed during the Trump administration.
Noting that the world looks very different than it did decades ago when alliances such as NATO were forged, Blinken is expected to say that since then, “threats have multiplied. Competition has stiffened. Power dynamics have shifted. Trust in our alliances has been shaken — and that goes for trust in each other and trust in the strength of our commitments.”
During his two-day visit to NATO allies, Blinken repeatedly stressed a few issues to underscore his central message of the Biden administration’s respect and support for its traditional US allies, including the 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 is set to say, noting that China and Russia are using economic and technological tools in new ways.
“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 is expected to say.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Ellie Kauffman contributed to this report.
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