Biden’s Foreign Policy Picks Could Change Approach to Middle East
President-elect says he’ll name longtime aide Antony Blinken secretary of state
US President-elect Joe Biden confirmed on Monday that his candidate for US secretary of state will be Antony Blinken, who worked on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, during the Obama administration.
Blinken would replace Mike Pompeo.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former US ambassador to Liberia, will be named US ambassador to the UN. The role is expected to be re-elevated to a cabinet-level position. After Nikki Haley resigned in 2018, the position was downgraded.
Kelly Craft is the current US envoy to the world body.
Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Sunday that President-elect Biden will nominate the first round of cabinet members on Tuesday for Senate confirmation. Both Blinken and Thomas-Greenfield will face Senate confirmation hearings.
Jake Sullivan, who, as Vice President Biden’s national security adviser was involved in the JCPOA, will be tapped to fill this role for the incoming president. The position does not require Senate confirmation.
The incumbent, since September 18, 2019, is Robert O’Brien.
Analysts interviewed by The Media Line praised the candidates as seasoned professionals who will take a diplomatic approach to global challenges.
“The reported foreign-policy nominations for President-elect Biden reveal a concerted effort to bring the experts back into the room,” Bader Al‑Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University and nonresident fellow at the Malcolm Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told The Media Line.
The reported foreign-policy nominations for President-elect Biden reveal a concerted effort to bring the experts back into the room
“They are either career diplomats or tried administrators who have worked effectively together in the past,” Al‑Saif said. “They will reset [the] current US foreign policy and approach to the Middle East by promoting inclusion and diplomacy that respects differences of opinion and hopes to work through them.”
A Biden administration will find a Middle East that was reshaped in fundamental ways under President Donald Trump, who ripped up the Iran nuclear deal and imposed punishing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Sullivan reportedly took part in secret negotiations with Iran in 2013 that ultimately led to the 2015 JCPOA.
“I think there will be a very concerted effort to engage diplomatically on Iran and with US allies, and I think that is obviously front and center on the new administration’s agenda,” Linda Robinson, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior international and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told The Media Line.
I think there will be a very concerted effort to engage diplomatically on Iran and with US allies, and I think that is obviously front and center on the new administration’s agenda
“The other area where they have made a number of pronouncements is continuing to follow the efforts made to defeat Islamic State in Syria and Iraq,” Robinson continued.
“Both President-elect Biden and Tony Blinken … are signaling that they are continuing efforts to ensure that ISIS does not come back, and [this] will be a central part of the Middle East policy,” she stated. “I think Iran and counter-terrorism are the two major planks while there is so much going on in the world.”
With the September 15 Abraham Accords, which normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Israel and Sunni Arab states formalized relationships that had been building for years.
Robinson says the Israel-Arab pacts are “clearly embraced” by the incoming Biden administration although it will be looking for a way to reenergize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Al‑Saif predicts that President-elect Biden will change US Middle Eastern policy on several fronts.
“There will be a serious attempt to end conflicts, such as the ones in Yemen and Libya. There will be a revival of the two-state solution track for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and an attempt to address the Iranian nuclear program alongside its activities in the region, and [its] missile program,” he said.
There will be a serious attempt to end conflicts, such as the ones in Yemen and Libya. There will be a revival of the two-state solution track for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and an attempt to address the Iranian nuclear program alongside its activities in the region, and its missile program
Robinson notes that the refugee and displacement issue in the Middle East could be on Thomas-Greenfield’s agenda at the UN given her background on dealing with such issues.
The Trump Administration made a number of moves favorable to Israel, including recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, moving the US Embassy there, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
While acknowledging that many Israelis support that approach, former Israeli diplomat Nadav Tamir, director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace & Innovation, a board member at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a former political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, believes that a Biden Administration’s foreign policy will be good for Israel.
“We are talking about professional people who are close to the Biden and Obama administrations, so I think they would like to repair the damage. But they are not going to [take] revenge [on] the Netanyahu and Trump administrations,” Tamir told The Media Line.
“They are going to be very pragmatic,” he added. “But of course, the ideology will go back to the two-state solution, against annexation, against settlement enlargement and for diplomacy with Iran. And so we are going back to what we had before Trump in many ways.”
They are going to be very pragmatic. But of course, the ideology will go back to the two-state solution, against annexation, against settlement enlargement and for diplomacy with Iran. And so we are going back to what we had before Trump in many ways
Here is a look at President-elect Biden’s three apparent foreign-policy picks:
Blinken, 58 and Jewish, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor under President Barack Obama. Before that, he was Biden’s national security adviser. Blinken’s foreign-policy experience includes stints at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Following Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful run for president in 2016, Blinken co-founded WestExec Advisors, which helps corporations weigh geopolitical risks.
Sullivan, 43, would be the youngest national security adviser in US history. The Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar succeeded Blinken as national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden. He also served as director of policy planning at the State Department and as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Thomas-Greenfield, a 68-year-old African American, served as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017. Before that, she was ambassador to Liberia. Thomas-Greenfield is a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, which provides international advice for businesses.