Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, vowed to revive Washington’s frayed ties with Nato allies as he sought to use his first official trip to Brussels to break from the transatlantic acrimony of former President Donald Trump’s era.
The top diplomat in Joe Biden’s administration called for a revitalisation of the western military alliance, which has been undermined by Trump’s attacks, criticism by French president Emmanuel Macron and tensions over Turkey.
Underscoring the US move to rekindle the western alliance, Biden will also join a videoconference of EU leaders on Thursday, according to the office of Charles Michel, European Council president.
“I’ve come here to express the US’s steadfast commitment [to Nato],” Blinken told reporters at the 30-member military alliance’s headquarters on Tuesday. “The US wants to rebuild our partnerships, first and foremost with our Nato allies. We want to revitalise the alliance.”
The Brussels trip highlights the Biden administration’s desire to rekindle co-operation with European powers, as well as underscoring important differences between them. Blinken is also due to meet top EU officials in the days after the European bloc, the US, Canada and the UK imposed co-ordinated sanctions on Chinese officials over the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
Blinken said the “last thing” the US could afford to do was to “take this alliance for granted”, in an implicit nod to the battles of the past four years. Trump declared Nato “obsolete” on the presidential campaign trail and, once in office, lambasted European allies for what he said was their insufficient military spending.
“The process of confronting our own shortcomings can be very painful. It can be ugly. But ultimately, at least today, we’ve emerged the better and the stronger for it,” Blinken said.
Blinken and Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, also discussed the “importance of continued consultation on Afghanistan”, according to a US state department readout. Washington is deciding what to do about an agreement between the Trump administration and Taliban insurgents to withdraw US troops from the country by May 1.
The men also talked about “concern over Russia and China’s malign activity and disinformation efforts”, as well as arms control and regional security matters, the readout said. Nato, which was set up more than 70 years ago to counter the Soviet Union, is paying growing attention to China’s expanding weaponry and cyber capabilities.
Blinken also criticised the contentious Nord Stream 2 project to pipe Russian gas to Germany. He said it threatened to damage both the EU and Ukraine, which lost Crimea to Russian annexation in 2014.
“President Biden has been very clear, he believes the pipeline is a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the US, ultimately it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals,” the secretary of state said. “It has the potential to undermine the interests of Ukraine, Poland and a number of close partners and allies.”
European countries have welcomed the Biden administration’s tone but are braced for tough debates.
Successive US presidents have pressed for more European countries to meet a Nato target to spend the equivalent of 2 per cent of gross domestic product on their militaries.
Blinken is also set to meet Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, and Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, before his Brussels trip concludes on Thursday.