Biden reveals top picks for national security team

Joe Biden, the US president-elect, has announced the most senior positions in his national security team, selecting Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and John Kerry as special presidential envoy on climate.

Mr Biden’s move on Monday marked his first big step to fill his cabinet ahead of his January inauguration, even though US president Donald Trump has still refused to accept defeat in the election and declined to start the transition.

Mr Biden’s other key appointments on the national security side included Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US ambassador to the United Nations, and Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security.

Ms Haines would be the first woman to serve in the most senior job in US intelligence, while Mr Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, would be the first Latino head of the department of homeland security, which is responsible for implementing US immigration policy.

“These individuals are equally as experienced and crisis-tested as they are innovative and imaginative,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

He added: “Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective.”

The cast of officials selected by Mr Biden will face the difficult mission of resetting US foreign policy after four years during which Mr Trump’s disruptive approach to diplomacy alienated many traditional allies and damaged America’s standing in multilateral institutions.

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Mike Singh, a former National Security Council director who worked in Republican administrations and also served as a senior adviser at WestExec, an advisory firm co-founded by Mr Blinken, said his appointment would usher in a more bipartisan era for foreign policymaking in Washington.

“He’s a person who is very experienced, obviously, and well respected on both sides of the aisle and so you have someone who can hit the ground running,” he said, adding Mr Blinken’s appointment would bring a less polarising approach for those “who are craving a sort of return to a more normal way of doing business”.

In quick succession after the announcement, Mr Biden’s picks reacted to their selections on Twitter with vows to protect US interests but also boost American engagement in the world.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I’m proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy,” Mr Kerry, the former secretary of state under Mr Obama, wrote.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield added: “My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place. I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in foreign service — and, if confirmed, will do the same as ambassador to the United Nations.”

While some associate Mr Blinken with the possibility of a more interventionist US foreign policy via his embrace of alliances with traditional friends around the world, Biden officials have been at pains to emphasise the president will focus on domestic issues.

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Mr Sullivan was part of a think-tank team that recently developed a new way of assessing foreign policy by asking how much it delivered for the middle class.

A state department official said human rights were likely to take a much more prominent role under a Blinken-Sullivan stewardship of US national security. That would mark something of a departure from both the Obama era, which sought to navigate a partial strategic retreat from the world stage, as well as Mr Trump’s own hostility towards liberal democratic values.

“We’re going to have to focus on human rights issues because of how cozy we were with authoritarian regimes,” a state department official told the FT, saying the Biden administration would represent a break with the Obama era only because of how far Mr Trump pushed the issue.

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