Blinken in Europe to Rebuild Alliances   

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to outline in a speech Wednesday in Brussels a commitment by the Biden administration to rebuild and revitalize U.S. alliances. That has been part of his message during his first visit to the region as the top U.S. diplomat this week, showing a departure from four years of foreign policy under former President Donald Trump that focused on prioritizing U.S. interests. The address comes on the final day of a two-day NATO ministerial meeting, during which Blinken is holding a number of sideline talks with his counterparts. Wednesday’s schedule includes separate talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, a session with the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as meetings with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. Blinken told reporters Tuesday the United States wants to rebuild its partnerships, “first and foremost with our NATO allies.”U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, rear center, waits for the start of a round table meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, March 23, 2021.The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden plans to discuss boosting U.S.-EU relations during a videoconference with EU leaders on Thursday. Biden’s stance is a marked contrast to that of former President Donald Trump, who frequently assailed other NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s goal that each country spend the equivalent of 2% of the size of its national economy on defense.    “The last thing we can afford to do is take this alliance for granted,” Blinken, a longtime Biden confidant, said. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian welcomed Blinken’s favorable comments about NATO, which was founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the then-Soviet Union.    One of the major topics for discussion during two days of meetings in Brussels is the NATO mission in Afghanistan, as a May 1 deadline approaches for the full withdrawal of all U.S. troops under a peace agreement made last year between Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Trump administration.  Blinken said the situation is under review, and that part of his work in Brussels would be conferring with NATO allies, both to listen and to share U.S. thinking. He said whatever the United States decides to do, its actions will be with the consultation of other member countries that have been a part of the military mission.    “We went in together, we have adjusted together, and when the time is right, we’ll leave together,” Blinken said.  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he welcomes the peace effort, stressing it is the “only path to a lasting political solution in Afghanistan.” But the NATO chief said that in order to achieve peace, all parties must negotiate in good faith, there needs to be a reduction of violence, and the Taliban must stop supporting international terrorists such as al-Qaida.  German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against a premature pullout that would undercut security gains.  “We want a conditions-based withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan,” Maas said.