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French See Antony Blinken, Biden's Pick For Secretary Of State, As One Of Their Own

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Europe now, where Europeans are welcoming the new Biden administration, in particular, its top diplomat, Antony Blinken. He's the nominee for secretary of state. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that in France, they see Blinken as one of their own.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Europeans say Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn't take the European Union seriously. They had a hard time connecting with the hawkish evangelist from Kansas. But they believe things will be different with Tony Blinken.

IAN LESSER: I think it will be night and day.

BEARDSLEY: That's Ian Lesser, vice president of The German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank that promotes U.S.-European cooperation.

LESSER: The selection of Tony Blinken has been greeted with, you know, tremendous enthusiasm in Brussels. You know, it is part and parcel of the sense that after four very difficult years, there's an opportunity to set things back on course, not only in terms of style but also in terms of substance.

BEARDSLEY: Lesser says one key policy change they're looking forward to - the U.S.'s immediate return to the Paris climate accord. In France, they're particularly looking forward to working with Blinken. He spent much of his school-age youth in Paris and speaks native French. But that's not all, says former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who's known Blinken since he served in the Clinton administration in the '90s.

JEAN-PIERRE RAFFARIN: (Through interpreter) He's not only Francophone. He's also a sympathetic person. He knows how to listen, and he's not arrogant. He's respectful. In Europe, we appreciate that. And he knows it.

BEARDSLEY: Trump's America First Policy saw the U.S. abandon international treaties and take a harsh tone with its traditional allies in Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In a recent interview on French television, Blinken lamented the U.S. abdicating its leadership role in the world. "Without us, it's the law of the jungle," he said. "And if China takes our place, then it'll be their rules that define the 21st century." Blinken's belief in American moral leadership was shaped by his family. His father and uncle were diplomats. His Polish-born stepfather was a child survivor of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. Blinken spoke of the late Samuel Pisar when he accepted his nomination in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank, but instead of the iron cross, he saw painted on its side a five-pointed white star. He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African-American guy looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words that he knew in English that his mother taught him before the war - God bless America.

BEARDSLEY: That's what America represents to the world, said Blinken. Robert Malley, who heads the International Crisis Group, was a friend and schoolmate of Blinken's during the 1970s when they both attended the Ecole Jeannine Manuel in Paris. He says that time helped prepare Blinken for his diplomatic career.

ROBERT MALLEY: Growing up as an American in Paris at a time when for a number of French citizens, the U.S. was not viewed as a force for good. It was in the wake of the Vietnam War, the U.S. viewed as overly arrogant and trying to impose its way. And he had to confront a universe in which what the U.S. projected or thought it projected was not always what the recipients of that message perceived.

BEARDSLEY: After four years of Trump, Europeans are once again wary of America. Malley thinks Blinken is the right person to restore Europe's faith in its trans-Atlantic ally.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.