Blinken’s Welcome by NATO Doesn’t Hide Differences on Key Issues

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sought to clean alliance feathers ruffled by the earlier U.S. administration on a visit to NATO and the European Union this week, however his diplomatic calm didn’t fully masks deep-seated points.

Mr. Blinken appeared to hit all the proper soothing notes, speaking of the American need to “revitalize the alliance” and seek the advice of and coordinate with America’s Western allies “wherever and whenever we can.” He met with the E3 — the international ministers of Britain, France and Germany — and people of the Visegrad Four — Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He met together with his Baltic colleagues.

He praised NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has confronted inner criticism for his typically awkward efforts to flatter former President Donald J. Trump and preserve him from blowing up the alliance with bombastic threats. Mr. Blinken additionally supplied good phrases for embattled European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles. And he scheduled conferences together with his Belgian counterpart and a digital thank-you to the employees of the three American embassies in Brussels.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. himself will make a video look at Thursday’s European Union summit assembly, the place extra nice phrases about friendship and alliance are anticipated. It would be the first time an American president has made that effort since President Barack Obama in 2009.

Underneath the bandages and the bonhomie, nonetheless, acquainted points pressure the alliance. A deep downside is Turkey, a NATO member that officers mentioned is in discussions with Russia to purchase extra batteries of S400 antiaircraft missiles.

An additional buy of a Russian weapons system that has already incurred American sanctions has upset Washington and NATO, and the Biden administration has warned Turkey that beneath U.S. regulation it could incur additional computerized sanctions ought to that transaction proceed. That was additionally a message Mr. Blinken repeated on Wednesday to his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Turkey is holding off for now, whereas additionally displaying some restraint in a contentious exploration for gasoline in Greek waters within the Eastern Mediterranean, partly to domesticate higher relations with President Biden and the European Union as a result of Turkey’s financial system is in such bother.

Mr. Stoltenberg himself conceded that with Turkey, “there are differences and there are concerns,’’ while emphasizing Ankara’s importance to NATO and its southern flank.

Then there is Afghanistan, where the U.S. implementation of the troop withdrawal agreement it struck with the Taliban last year is coming due. A decision is coming soon, and “in together, adjust together and, when the time is right, leave together” stays the NATO place, even whether it is changing into clearer that the unique withdrawal deadline of May 1 is prone to slip by a number of months.

Mr. Blinken mentioned that he had offered NATO colleagues “the president’s thinking.” But simply as necessary, he insisted, had been their views, which he had shared with the White House Tuesday night time, he mentioned.

“We will consult with our friends, early and often,’’ he said, describing it as “a change from the past that our allies are already seeing.’’

He gave no indication of when a decision on how many troops to withdraw, and when, might be coming. But it seemed clear that Washington and NATO will want to give time, perhaps as much as six months, for a new effort at getting the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a power-sharing government. The risk is that after May 1, the originally agreed date for American troops to leave, the Taliban will renew attacks on NATO forces.

China is also an undercurrent of strain. European allies are reluctant to be pushed into an American-led confrontation with China. Those countries, and especially large export-driven economies like Germany, are more dependent on China for trade.

But Mr. Blinken promised that “the United States won’t force our allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China,” regardless of Beijing’s “coercive behavior,” he mentioned, that “threatens our collective security and prosperity” and its efforts “to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share.”

At the identical time, Mr. Blinken mentioned, Washington would search to work with China on points like local weather change and well being safety, and do the identical with Russia, regardless of its personal aggressive actions, on nuclear arms management, “strategic stability” and local weather.

And then there may be the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, a Russia-owned challenge that may take Russian gasoline to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland. Mr. Biden has made no secret of his opposition to the pipeline and his intention to observe authorized necessities to impose sanctions on any firm or establishment that aids in its building.

Mr. Blinken repeated that place to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany at first of their bilateral assembly. At the identical time, he emphasised that Germany is amongst America’s most necessary allies, that the pipeline is “an irritant in an rock-solid alliance,’’ and that Germany has some choices to make.

On Iran, Mr. Blinken insisted that the E3, participants in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, were aligned with Washington in demanding that Iran make the first move to restore compliance with it. Mr. Blinken said that Washington remained open to restart diplomatic talks with the Iranians on nuclear issues, but that “the ball is in their court.’’ Iran has rejected that stance, arguing that the United States abandoned the deal under Mr. Trump, reimposing harsh sanctions, and should remove them first.

Mr. Blinken also encouraged NATO allies to continue to spend more on defense as they have promised, saying that a more modern and adaptable NATO needs more resources. “When our allies shoulder their fair share of the burden, they will have a fair say in the decisions,’’ he said.

But he also had a veiled warning for NATO allies who are regressing in democratic practices, like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Without naming them, he said, “some of our allies are moving in the wrong direction.” NATO allies should “all speak up when countries take steps that undermine democracy and human rights,’’ he said.

He further warned that to maintain and sustain American support, the alliance must also serve American interests.

“We can’t build a foreign policy that delivers for the American people without maintaining effective alliances,’’ he said. “And we can’t sustain effective alliances without showing how they deliver for the American people.’’

Of course the other 29 countries in the alliance have voters, too. But this week’s visit was about restoration and revival, not open criticism.

As Mr. Stoltenberg said: “We have now a unique opportunity to start a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” including: “Secretary Blinken, Tony, as soon as once more welcome to NATO. You are right here not simply amongst allies, but additionally amongst associates.’’

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