The U.S. foreign minister begins a tour on Sunday dedicated to the Arctic, a new share of rivalry with China and the first opportunity to test harmful relations with Russia ahead of a likely summit of Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutin.
Antony Blinken traveled from Washington to Copenhagen, where he will meet with Danish leaders on Monday, before traveling to Iceland for an Arctic Council ministerial meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
In Reykjavik, the focus will be on his tete-a-tete with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the first meeting of the two powers in a dispute since the election of a new US president.
The Arctic, a vast territory with extreme conditions around the North Pole, has imposed itself in recent years in global geopolitical competition between its eight coastal Council member states (United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) because of its natural resources, waterways and strategic position.
It also provokes, unfortunately for Washington, the envy of China, a simple “observer” in the Council but who claims to be a “quasi-Arctic” state.
Under the chairmanship of Donald Trump, the United States has clearly shown its readiness to oppose Russian-Chinese “aggression.” And the Biden administration seems to want to continue marking its territory.
“We’re not saying no to all Chinese investments or activities, but we insist on adhering to international rules,” James DeHart, U.S. coordinator for Arctic diplomacy, warned this week, noting “Washington’s concerns about Beijing’s goals.
– Trumpist controversy –
But Antony Blinken must first turn the page about two controversies inherited from the Trump era.
In 2019, the real estate mogul put forward the idea of the American takeover of Greenland, a vast Arctic territory and the wealth of small Denmark – “absurd”, “not for sale”, Copenhagen replied.
If he wants to “deepen relations with Greenland”, the new US Secretary of State will refrain from such provocations, meeting with his leaders first in the Danish capital and then during a brief stop in autonomous territory.
His predecessor Mike Pompeo also, more seriously, rocked a previous Arctic Council meeting that same year by blocking his final statement for the first time over America’s refusal to mention climate change.
He even seemed to see a certain breeze in him. “Regular withdrawal of the pack opens new aisles and offers new business opportunities,” he applauded.
On this issue, the American message has changed radically with the arrival of President Biden, who has made the fight against global warming one of his priorities.
This time there will be a final declaration, already approved by “eight ministers”, but also a “joint strategic plan” for the next ten years, Marcia Bernicat, the environmental officer in the US state department, told reporters.
“Opening the ocean is not only a good thing, it involves huge risks,” she also insisted, noting recent research showing that warming in the Arctic “reaches a rate not twice but three times” higher than on the rest of the planet.
The Biden administration also wants to rely on these climate issues to explore possibilities for co-operation with Moscow, which will chair the Arctic Council for two years.
Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov will discuss “all aspects of bilateral relations – good, bad and those in between,” said U.S. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price. Suffice it to say that the “bad guys” are likely to prevail, Washington accusing the Kremlin of electoral interference, espionage and serial cyber attacks.
Determined to show his tenacity in marking a breakup with Donald Trump accused of appeasing Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden went so far as to call his Russian counterpart a “killer,” and two rival forces exchanged sanctions as soon as possible. the mandate of the Democrats in the White House.
But the foreign policy of the new U.S. government is also very pragmatic, capable of finding common ground with its worst enemies where the United States has interests, such as climate or disarmament.
That is the whole goal of the meeting in Reykjavik, which should lead to the confirmation of the first summit of Putin and Biden in Europe in June. “We want to test the possibility of making our relationship with Moscow more stable and predictable,” Ned Price explained.