On his first full day as secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the State Department he would now lead was “not the same one that I left four years ago.” To illustrate his point, his remarks were delivered to a mostly empty lobby at the department’s headquarters.
The pomp of past arrival ceremonies for America’s top diplomat was dispensed with as a pandemic precaution. Instead, Blinken was greeted Wednesday by a few dozen employees and journalists gathered to record his return to the department where he served as deputy secretary during the Obama administration.
“We’ve never been in a moment quite like this before,” Blinken acknowledged in remarks that were broadcast online and on the State Department’s internal TV channel for diplomats across the world to watch.
“The world has changed,” he said. “The department has changed, and we need only look around to see that.”
He repeated his pledge to rebuild trust among State Department employees who he has said were demoralized during the Trump administration. He urged them to “speak up without fear or favor” when they disagree with policies. He also reminded the department’s staff of the long-standing tradition of putting “country over party.”
That was a veiled contrast to the department under Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who openly embraced partisan politics during his tenure, including when he addressed the Republican National Convention while on an official diplomatic trip to Jerusalem.
Blinken also indirectly referred to the right-wing mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a culmination of years of national divisiveness that has left diplomats reeling over how to represent the United States abroad.
“The world is watching us intently right now,” he said. “They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example, if we’ll put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time.”
He did not take questions at the end of his brief remarks and headed to the White House about 90 minutes later for a ceremonial swearing-in by Vice President Kamala Harris.