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Blinken Highlights Stepfather's Dramatic Holocaust Rescue in Secretary of State Acceptance Speech

Introducing his national security team, President-elect Biden says U.S. 'ready to lead' again on global stage, vows to mend ties with allies

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President-elect Joe Biden said on Tuesday the United States will be "ready to lead" again on the global stage after he succeeds President Donald Trump in January, as his pick for U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, highlighted his Jewish family's history of persecution in his acceptance speech.

Biden, introducing his new foreign policy and national security team, pledged to work together with Washington's allies abroad. The Democratic former vice president signaled that he intends to steer the United States away from the unilateralist "America First" agenda pursued by Trump.

The Republican incumbent has unsettled many U.S. allies, especially in Europe, with an antagonistic approach toward the NATO alliance and trade relations, abandonment of international agreements and warm relationships with authoritarian leaders.

"While this team has unmatched experience and accomplishments, they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits," said Biden, due to take office on January 20.

"It's a team that reflects the fact that America is back - ready to lead the world, not retreat from it," Biden said at the event in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden has tapped Blinken to be U.S. secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security and John Kerry as envoy on climate-related issues.

Biden's secretary of state, Antony Blinken, speaks on his stepfather's experience of the HolocaustCredit: Aaron Rupar

Blinken stressed the need to work with allies, who Trump often made a target for public criticism as part of his "America First" approach to foreign policy.

"We can't solve all the world's problems alone" he said. "We need to be working with other countries, we need their cooperation, we need their partnership."

Blinken also vividly described his stepfather’s Holocaust-era rescue and noted other Jewish ancestors who were refugees in his acceptance speech.

“For my family, as for so many generations of Americans, America has literally been the last best hope on earth,” Blinken said. "My late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, was one of 900 children in his school in Bialystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps."

"At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the Bavarian woods," he said. "From his hiding place, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank. Instead of an Iron Cross, he saw a five-pointed White Star. He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African-American GI looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: God Bless America. The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom. That’s who we are.”

'Needless military conflicts'

U.S. foreign policy under a Biden administration is likely to focus on more of a multilateral and diplomatic approach aimed at repairing Washington's relationships with key U.S. allies and taking new paths on issues like climate change.

Biden said had been struck in calls with world leaders "by how much they're looking forward to the United States reasserting its historic role as a global leader over the Pacific, as well as the Atlantic, all across the world."

Biden vowed to strengthen alliances in the Asia-Pacific stressed the diplomatic experience of his team, which had, working with partners, secured "some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory."

US President-elect Joe Biden is flanked by his new team during a cabinet announcement event in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA - AFP

"That's how we truly keep America safe. Without engaging in needless military conflicts, and our adversaries in check," he said.
During the election campaign, Biden vowed to reverse Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord on climate change, take a tough line on China's expanding influence worldwide and rejoin the Iran nuclear accord if Tehran resumes strict compliance.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added, "We will need to reassemble and renew America's alliances, rebuild and strengthen the national security and foreign policy institutions that keep us safe, and advance our nation's interests, and confront and combat the existential threat of climate change that endangers us all."

"I want to say to you," Thomas-Greenfield said, "America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back"

Biden has been moving swiftly to assemble his team and make Cabinet choices after defeating Trump in the November 3 election. Trump has waged a flailing legal battle to try to overturn the results, falsely claiming that the election was stolen from him.

Transition moves forward

Trump has said he will never concede the election but after weeks of limbo his administration on Monday finally gave the green light for the formal transfer of power to begin. That process had been held up despite Biden emerging as the clear winner and world leaders recognizing him as the next president.

Monday's announcement meant the Biden team qualifies for $6.3 million in funds and among other things can officially coordinate with the 17 agencies that are part of U.S. intelligence gathering, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

The Biden team also gets access to federal office space, secure facilities for intelligence briefings and the succession plans for executive agencies. In addition, the State Department typically supports a transition team's discussions with foreign leaders.

One of the first departments that Biden's team reached out to was the Pentagon, underscoring the importance of emphasizing national security during the transition. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper on November 9.

In a small but symbolic move hours after the transition announcement on Monday night, Biden opened a ".gov" website available only to government agencies for his transition, launching buildbackbetter.gov.

Critics have said Trump's refusal to accept the results and approve the transition of power to Biden undermined U.S. democracy and undercut the incoming administration's ability to combat the intensifying coronavirus pandemic that has killed about 258,000 Americans and left millions more without jobs.

Ron Kampeas and JTA contributed to this report.

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