Blinken, without leaving home, tries to mend barriers with allies abroad

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Behind the jokes, however, is the frustration. Mr Blinken and President Biden say the United States faces a Herculean challenge to reestablish ties with key allies, restore US leadership against rivals like China and Russia, and deal with threats such as climate change and a nuclear Iran.

Although Mr Blinken has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, State Department officials say they are cautious about his overseas trips, which involve an entourage of aides, security personnel, support personnel and journalists, many of whom would be at risk of contracting or spreading. the virus. Mr Blinken currently has no travel planned, and a senior administration official has said he won’t be able to take to the air until April – though even that timeline is uncertain.

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This, according to former government officials and diplomacy experts, is an undeniable handicap, especially at a time when the world is changing. A lot of business can be done through phone calls and video conferences. But diplomats say closeness breeds familiarity that cannot be replicated, fueled by body language, eye contact and handshakes, shared meals, cultural events, gifts exchanged and the chance of encounters in places. hallways, outdoor walks and other times away from neurotics, from the agenda. aids.

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Mr Blinken was, for example, unable to make an appearance in person at the Annual Munich Security Conference, a forum held virtually last week for US and European elites to talk, schmooze, strategize and assert transatlantic links. On Monday, he held a video call with European Union foreign ministers.

In ordinary times, these events could have “been part of a larger trip to Europe including the Munich Security Conference and a trip to NATO,” said Cathryn Cl├╝ver Ashbrook, executive director of The Future of Diplomacy project at the Belfer Center for Science at Harvard University. and international affairs.

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