Washington — America's new top diplomat took the helm of the State Department on Wednesday with a vow to rebuild the ranks of the foreign service and rely on its expertise as thetries to restore U.S. global standing.
On his first full day in the job, Antony Blinken told a coronavirus-limited audience of employees in the department's main lobby that he values their work and commitment. He also said they have a hard road ahead with the world watching how they will pursue foreign policy after four years of former President Donald Trump's "America First" doctrine.
Blinken acknowledged the unprecedented times the nation is experiencing, as those who were before him in-person were wearing masks and the department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom was surrounded by barricades, a sign of the threats of violence that prompted heightened security in downtown Washington.
Blinken said a crucial priority for him as secretary of state is rebuilding morale and trust, as "we need a strong department for the United States to be strong in the world." He also vowed to "invest significantly in building a diverse and inclusive State Department," seek out dissenting views and listen to experts, "because that's how the best decisions are made."
"I will have your back," he said.
He addressed reporters and took questions later in the afternoon, with a pledge to resume daily briefings by the State Department press secretary.
President Joe Biden has vowed to reverse Mr. Trump's approach, which had alienated many traditional U.S. allies who perceived it as a hardline unilateral approach that left no room for negotiation. Blinken said that after four years, the United States would again engage with allies on a reciprocal, rather than a purely transactional, basis.
"The world is watching us intently right now," Blinken said. "They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example and if we will put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time — like the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries."
Blinken, a 58-year-old longtime Biden confidant, wasto be the 71st secretary of state by the Senate on Tuesday in a 78-22 vote. The position is the most senior Cabinet post, with the secretary fourth in the line of presidential succession. A former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, Blinken pledged that U.S. leadership is back.
"America's leadership is needed around the world, and we will provide it, because the world is far more likely to solve problems and meet challenges when the United States is there," he said. "America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others for the greater good."
Shortly after being sworn in late Tuesday, Blinken hit the ground running, making his first series of calls to foreign minister counterparts in neighbors and allied countries: Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.