Mr. Blinken Goes to Europe, Part Deux

In my recent post, What About Us?, I argued that, on his trip to Europe in June, it would behoove President Biden to meet individually with both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in their respective countries as he did with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the G-7 summit in Carbis Bay, England. These in-person meetings in France and Germany would have staved off any unnecessary strains in the relationships over issues spilling over from the Trump administration.

Strengthening the Transatlantic Bond – A Conversation between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Instead, the next week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after attending the summits alongside Mr. Biden, traveled back to Europe to meet bilaterally with the leaders and foreign ministers of Germany and France in Berlin and Paris highlight the importance of both relationships. In addition to meeting the German and French leaders, Secretary Blinken met with Italian leaders in Rome to “underscore the U.S.-Italy partnership’s important role in addressing key global priorities.” The purpose of Mr. Blinken’s post-Biden trip to Europe was to quell any strains in the relationship that Mr. Biden was unable to address during his time in Europe last month.

The question remains, did Secretary Blinken’s trip work?

Germany

Secretary Blinken’s first stop on his European trip was Berlin. During his time in Berlin, he met with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel. He visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, noting that Germany and the United States were working together to counter antisemitism and Holocaust denial. While in Berlin, Mr. Blinken also attended a conference hosted by Germany and the United Nations focused on supporting Libya’s transition to a stable, permanent government.

Secretary Blinken’s visit to Berlin was not all work. He and Foreign Minister Maas grabbed a beer at a Berlin beer garden where Mr. Maas could hardly contain his excitement about his counterpart, noting how happy he was that the United States and Germany were on the same page again. “It’s more fun,” he added. Chancellor Merkel was equally complimentary and equally relieved, stating that “We are delighted that the American states, in order to quote the American President Joe Biden, are back again on the international, multilateral scene.” It was clear that Secretary Blinken was just as thrilled as the Germans to be in Berlin, observing that the United States has no better friend in the world than Germany. It is safe to say that, despite some lingering policy differences, Mr. Blinken’s top in Berlin was a success.

France

Secretary Blinken received a very friendly welcome in Paris where he met with Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron where they discussed the tougher issues facing the U.S. and its European allies, including the Iranian nuclear deal, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and China. “My dear Tony, I’m really very happy to welcome you to Paris,” Foreign Minister Le Drian rejoiced.

Secretary Le Drian was not shy about celebrating the end of the turbulent years of the Trump administration, expressing his elation that the United States is back: “It is  excellent news for all of us that America is back. It is a comeback to the values that we share, it is a comeback to the multilateralism that we built together and it is our responsibility to continue with it intensively. This is what France and the Europeans had to fight for alone for four very long years.” Secretary Blinken returned the sentiment, affirming that the United States had no closer friend in the world than its oldest ally, similar to the statement he made while in Berlin about Germany. Much like his stop in Berlin, French officials were excited and relieved to welcome the American secretary of state, showing that the trip was certainly a success.

Italy

After his stops in Berlin and Paris, Secretary Blinken then traveled to Rome where he met with Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and where he was greeted in a similar manner as in Germany and France. He and Minister Di Maio co-chaired a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with the aim of discussing the maintenance of pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Then, he attended another meeting focused on Syria, with a focus of bringing an end to the country’s decades-long civil war. Mr. Blinken also visited the Vatican where he met with Pope Francis.

While Secretary Blinken’s stop in Rome was packed full of events, it also went a long way to reaffirming the U.S.-Italian relationship. In fact, Minister Di Miao paid the United States the ultimate compliment, in the eyes of the Biden administration, stating that Italy’s relationship with the United States vastly outweighed the Italian relationship with China. The United States has expressed concern over Italy’s ties to China, specifically after Italy, under the previous government, signed up for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which the U.S. views as problematic. “We are a strong trade partner with China, we have a historic relationship,” he admitted. “But it is absolutely not comparable, and it does not interfere with, the alliance of values we have with the United States.” In short, one could argue that Secretary Blinken’s stop in Italy reaped results that far outweighed what the Biden administration anticipated.

Conclusion

Secretary Blinken traveled to Europe in the wake of President Biden’s largely successful trip to Europe. During his visits to Berlin, Paris, and Rome to further Biden administration efforts to revitalize U.S. relations with its European allies, leaders in France, Germany, and Italy treated Secretary Blinken like a “rock star.” After the frustrating and destructive Trump years, European leaders received Mr. Blinken with relief and even joy, marking his recent trip as a rounding success.

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