President-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominees also promised that the United States would stay tough on China and Iran but vowed a new era of international cooperation after Donald Trump's divisive "America First" approach.

Antony J. Blinken, of New York, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Capitol in Washington, DC, US, January 19, 2021.
Antony J. Blinken, of New York, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Capitol in Washington, DC, US, January 19, 2021. (Reuters)

President-elect Joe Biden will not reverse Donald Trump's decision of considering Jerusalem as Israel's capital but will seek a state for the Palestinians, Antony Blinken, his nominee for secretary of state, said Tuesday.

Asked at his confirmation hearing by Senator Ted Cruz if the United States will continue its stance on Jerusalem and maintain its embassy, Blinken said without hesitation, "Yes and yes."

Trump in 2017 bucked international consensus and recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, despite UN resolutions and Palestinians' claims to the holy city as part of their campaign for a separate state.

Blinken indicated that Biden would try harder to pursue a separate Palestinian state but acknowledged the difficulties.

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"The only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution," Blinken said.

But he added: "I think realistically it's hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that."

"What would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging," he said.

Shortly after his remarks, a watchdog said that Israel had issued tenders for 2,500 new settler homes.

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disputed that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land were illegal and visited one such site on a November trip to the West Bank.

The Trump administration had voiced general support for a Palestinian state but said it should be demilitarised and not have its capital inside Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership boycotted Trump, saying the Jerusalem move as well as his ending of aid for Palestinian refugees showed his bias.

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In a drive led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump instead focused Middle East efforts on winning Arab recognition of Israel with four nations agreeing to normalise ties since September.

Blinken also said he opposed campaigns to pressure Israel through boycotts, putting him at odds with some in the left wing of his Democratic Party.

Blinken vows firmness on China, Iran

"Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone – even one as powerful as the US," Blinken, a mild-mannered longtime aide to Biden, told his Senate confirmation hearing.

"We can revitalise our core alliances – force multipliers of our influence around the world. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights."

Blinken distanced himself from the outgoing president's needling of allies and denunciations of multilateralism but said that Trump "was right in taking a tougher approach to China."

"I disagree very much with the way he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one."

Blinken backed the determination Tuesday by the outgoing secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that China was committing genocide against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim people.

He promised to keep looking at ways to block the import of Chinese products that involve forced labor and preventing the export of technology that could "further their repression."

Retired general Lloyd Austin, the nominee to be defence secretary, told his hearing that the rising Asian power "constitutes a significant and long-term security threat to the United States and to our allies and partners."

"I believe that because of its ascent and the scope and scale of its military modernisation, China is the top priority," he said.

Blinken has previously spoken of finding limited areas for cooperation with China, such as climate change.

But the tough talk came as the Trump administration hailed its campaign against China as a signature achievement.

In a farewell address, Trump said that he "rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before."

New 'start' with Russia

Blinken also said  the incoming administration would seek to extend New START, the last US arms pact with Russia, which expires February 5.

"I think we're going to seek an extension," Blinken said in response to a question at his Senate confirmation hearing.

"I know we will be coming to you very quickly, almost immediately, to discuss that," Blinken said of the Senate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last year proposed a one-year extension on New START, which caps the number of nuclear warheads betw een the two powers.

Review Yemen Houthi terrorist label 'immediately'

Antony Blinken said he would quickly revisit the outgoing administration's designation of Yemen's Houthi rebels as terrorists, fearing it could make the humanitarian crisis there far worse.

"We would propose to review that immediately to make sure that what we're doing is not impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance," Blinken said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"At least on its surface, [the designation] seems to achieve nothing particularly practical in advancing the efforts against the Houthis and to bring them back to the negotiating table while making it even more difficult than it already is to provide humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it," Blinken said.

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Outgoing US President Donald Trump's administration announced the move on January 11, nine days before Biden takes over on Wednesday.

The United Nations and aid groups warned it risks worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis.

The Iran-backed Houthis are facing a bloody offensive led by US ally Saudi Arabia, with millions in the country depending o n aid to survive.

The Houthis, who control much of the north of the war-ravaged country, warned Tuesday they would respond to any action against them following their US classification as "terrorists."

"We are ready to take all necessary measures against any hostile act," they said in a statement.

The designation is expected to halt many transactions with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and payments to medical personnel and for food and fuel, due to fears of US prosecution.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, called on t he United States to reverse the move.

"Our position on this has not changed," Dujarric said. "We call on the government to reverse that decision."

"Our concern from the beginning, that we expressed very clearly, is the impact on the commercial sector," he said.

"The vast majority of food and other basic supplies that comes into Yemen comes in through the commercial sector."

Blinken said the United States needs to be "clear-eyed about the Houthis."

"They overthrew a government in Yemen, they engaged in a path of aggression through the country, they directed aggression toward Saudi Arabia and committed atrocities and human rights abuses," he said.

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Plans full review of approach to North Korea

Blinken also said the incoming administration planned a full review of the US approach to North Korea to look at ways to increase pressure on the country to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons.

At the same time, the United States would also look at providing humanitarian help to North Korea if needed, Blinken said.

"We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian s ide of the equation, not just on the security side of the equation," he told his Senate confirmation hearing.

Asked by Democratic Senator Ed Markey whether he would, with the ultimate aim of North Korea denuclearizing, support a "phased agreement" that offered tailored sanctions relief to Pyongyang in return for a verifiable freeze in its weapons programs, Blinken replied:

"I think we have to review, and we intend to review, the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration. And it's a problem that has not gotten better - in fact, it's gotten worse."

He said the aim of the review would be to "look at what options we have, and what can be effective in terms of increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table, as well as what other diplomatic initiatives may be possible."

Blinken said this would start with consulting closely with allies and partners, particularly with South Korea and Japan.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies