US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Biden administration’s foreign policy plans for the Middle East with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday night, praising the Abraham Accords and noting that
must make the first move if they want sanctions to end.
While Blinken reiterated that the Biden administration would continue recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he stopped short of endorsing the Trump administration’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel, instead noting that the territory was important for Israel’s security.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move that is not recognized internationally.
“As a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” Blinken told CNN.
“Legal questions are something else and over time if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we look at, but we are nowhere near that,” he said.
He added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as well as the presence of militia groups backed by Iran pose a ‘significant security threat’ to Israel.
Biden’s advisers had said previously that he would not withdraw US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
When asked how the Biden administration viewed the previous administration’s efforts to broker peace in the region, Blinken said “We applauded the Abraham Accords.”
He elaborated, saying that “This is an important step forward. Whenever we see Israel and its neighbors normalizing relations, improving relations, that’s good for Israel, it’s good for the other countries in question, it’s good for overall peace and security and I think it offers new prospects to people throughout the region through travel, through trade, through other work that they can do together to actually, materially improve their lives, and that’s a good thing.”
“But,” he said, “that doesn’t mean that the challenges of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians go away. They don’t. They’re still there and they’re not going to miraculously disappear. So we need to engage on that, but in the first instance, the parties in question need to engage on that.”
He continued, telling CNN that “the hard truth is we are a long way, I think, from seeing peace break out and seeing a final resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, and the creation of a Palestinian state.”
“In the first instance, now, it’s “do no harm.” We’re looking to make sure that neither side takes unilateral actions that make the prospects for moving towards peace, and a resolution, even more challenging than they already are. And then, hopefully, we’ll see both sides take steps to create a better environment in which actual negotiations can take place.”
On Iran, the standoff between the US’ desire to return to a version of the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran’s desire to remove sanctions continues to have both sides expecting the other to be the first to act. “The president’s been very clear about this,” Blinken said.
“If Iran returns to compliance with those obligations in the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing, and then we would work with our allies and partners to try and build a longer and stronger agreement, and also bring in some of these other issues, like Iran’s missile program, like its destabilizing actions in the region, that need to be addressed as well.
He continued, saying that “the problem we face now is that in recent months, Iran has lifted one restraint after another. They were being held in check by the agreement, we got out of the agreement, Iran started to lift the various restraints in the agreement. And the result is they are closer than they’ve been to having the capacity on short order to produce the solid material for a nuclear weapon.”
He criticized the Trump administration’s decision to opt out of the Iran deal, saying that “the agreement had pushed that past a year. According to public reports now, it’s down to three or four months, and heading in the wrong direction. So the first thing, that’s so critical, is for Iran to come back to compliance with its obligations. There a ways from that. But if they do that, the path to diplomacy is there.”
not to call Netanyahu so far among his calls with foreign leaders since being inaugurated has raised eyebrows in Israel and among Middle East experts. Obama and Trump both spoke to him within days of taking office.
When asked why Biden has not spoken with Netanyahu, Blinken said: “I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.”
When asked about a two state solution, Blinken said “the president strongly supports it. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and Democratic state and the only way to give the Palestinians the state to which they’re entitled.”
When asked whether he regards Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Blinken replied “I do, yes. And, more importantly, we do.”
Blinken would not commit when pressed on whether he would recognize a potential Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, opting instead to say that that sort of issue should be negotiated by the involved parties.