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President-Elect Joe Biden To Name His Secretary Of State

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden is starting to put together his Cabinet. NPR has confirmed that Biden will be tapping Tony Blinken to be his secretary of state. Blinken is an experienced former State Department official who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. His record shows a strong preference for international alliances. He's considered to be a safe bet, not likely to face a battle getting confirmed in the Senate.

NPR's Michele Kelemen covers the State Department and is with us this morning. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what should we know about Tony Blinken?

KELEMEN: Well, he's a 58-year-old former deputy secretary of state. He's well-respected at the department, polished and, well, diplomatic. Most importantly, though, he has a close relationship with Joe Biden going back to Biden's days on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Blinken was a staffer; he traveled with Biden in those years. I always remember him being there when Biden would come back from a trip and brief reporters. And that's the kind of relationship that's really important for a secretary of state to have with the president. If confirmed to the job, his counterparts abroad will know that he has this very long history with Biden and definitely speaks for him.

GREENE: I mean, beyond having that kind of relationship, what do you think the choice says about Joe Biden's foreign policy goals and agenda?

KELEMEN: I think it signals kind of a more traditional approach to foreign policy and diplomacy, though Blinken has reached out to the progressive wing of the party, which has been kind of interesting. He talks a lot about restoring U.S. leadership, especially when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Let's take a listen to him earlier this year. He was speaking at the Meridian International Center and talking about how a Biden administration would restore funding, for instance, to the World Health Organization.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: A Biden administration would do the opposite of what the Trump administration has done in terms of pulling back from our leadership in international organizations, institutions, alliances.

KELEMEN: He said that the U.S. needs partners to deal with China, which he calls a competitor. He talked about the need to get back to nuclear diplomacy with Iran. And, you know, just last week, David, he put out even - a much tougher statement on Egypt than the State Department did after Egyptians arrested some high-profile human rights activists. Remember, Trump once called Egypt's leader his favorite dictator, so this is definitely...

GREENE: Right.

KELEMEN: ...Going to be a change in tone.

GREENE: Well - and it sounds like there's some other names in the mix as well. We're learning about more people who might be on the national security and foreign policy team.

KELEMEN: Yeah, that's right. A source tells NPR that Jake Sullivan is now the strong lead to become national security adviser in the new administration - not a household name, but he was a top aide to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. And then he later joined the - Vice President Biden in the White House, where he played a key role in opening up a back channel to Iran. That opening led to the negotiations to the Iran nuclear deal. And, you know, interestingly, David, more recently, he's been - Sullivan has been involved in this project to get a better sense of how U.S. foreign policy can help the - middle-class Americans. And that's kind of a key theme of this incoming administration.

And I'll just name one other one. Another name to watch here is Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She's likely to be tapped to be the ambassador to the United Nations. That would be a great signal - the Career Foreign Service officers who have been sidelined by the Trump administration, like she was. She's Black. She was in the foreign service for 35 years. And she's been talking a lot this summer about the need to rebuild the department and bring back some of those who were forced into retirement.

GREENE: All right. And just restating the news - Tony Blinken, NPR's confirmed, is Joe Biden's choice to be secretary of state. Speaking to NPR's Michele Kelemen.

Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.