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Biden's top diplomat Blinken says he aims to revitalize alliances, U.S. leadership

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that he will work to revitalize damaged American diplomacy and build a united front to counter the challenges posed by Russia, China and Iran.

At his confirmation hearing a day before Democrat Biden takes over from Republican Donald Trump, whose tenure was marked by unilateral action that often upset traditional U.S. friends, Blinken said he would work with allies and with humility.

“We do have a big task ahead of us in restoring, revitalizing those relationships. I do think it starts... with showing up again,” said Blinken. “Some of our allies and partners question the sustainability of our commitments based on the past few years and that’s going to be a hard hill to climb.”

Blinken, 58, a veteran foreign policy hand and close Biden confidant, said he believed U.S. leadership was vital, but should also benefit those at home.

“If we want to have (American people’s) support for American leadership, American engagement in the world, we have to demonstrate that it is actually making an improvement in their lives or preventing something,” he said.

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There has been no indication that Blinken would face difficulty being confirmed by the Senate. Throughout the hearing, he received bipartisan praise from the senators.

At the end of the 4-1/2-hour hearing, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s incoming chairman, said he hoped the Senate would confirm Blinken as quickly as possible. Republican Senator Jim Risch, the outgoing chairman, also praised him.

Menendez called Blinken’s testimony a “tour de force.”

Blinken testified at the Capitol complex two weeks after the building representing American democracy was stormed by thousands of members of a pro-Trump mob seeking to overturn Biden’s victory. The unprecedented attack stunned the world, further bruised the reputation of the United States, and gave ammunition to its adversaries.

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Blinken said there was a need to reinforce democracy at home. “Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad,” he said.

His approach was a stark contrast to outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s campaign to get back “the swagger” of the State Department.

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CHINA CHALLENGE

Biden takes on a much different world from the one he left four years ago as President Barack Obama’s vice president. China has a larger global role, from multilateral institutions to assisting development in Africa and Latin America. Ties between Washington and Beijing have sunk to their worst in decades.

Blinken said there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to Washington of any nation.

He said he believed Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China - even if he did not agree with all his methods - and endorsed the Trump administration’s assessment on Tuesday that the Chinese Communist Party was committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

The challenge posed by Russia, which has been accused of interference in 2016 U.S. elections and a broad cyberattack on the U.S. government last year, was very high on the Biden administration’s agenda, Blinken said.

He said the Biden administration intends to review the U.S. approach and policy toward North Korea and consult closely with allies on how to get Pyongyang back to negotiations aimed at convincing it to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

On Iran, Blinken said the United States was “a long way” from rejoining a 2015 nuclear pact in which Iran restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions. Trump quit the deal in 2018, saying it did not go far enough.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien

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