Blinken in Italy on Sunday for Meetings with Top Leaders, Pope – Voice of America

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s multination trip to Europe takes him to Italy Sunday for several days of meetings with top Italian leaders, Pope Francis, Group of 20 leaders and ministerial-level officials.

After being warmly welcomed in France and Germany, Blinken left Paris on Sunday for Rome, where he meets with the Italian foreign minister, United Nations food security agencies and U.S. Embassy officials. He will also meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will co-chair a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Rome on Monday, when he also meets with Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Sergio Mattarella to discuss the Syrian civil war and the humanitarian needs in that country. 

The State Department says Syria remains a big concern, with tens of thousands of women and children in humanitarian camps subject to security issues as members of the Islamic State terrorist group work to exploit the camps to recruit the next generation of fighters.

Also Monday, Blinken goes to Vatican City for meetings with Pope Francis and Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Among the topics he and Vatican officials are expected to discuss are climate change, human trafficking and debt relief for impoverished countries.

His meeting with the pope comes ahead of an expected October meeting between the pontiff and U.S. President Joe Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president.

At a recent conference, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops voted to draft a statement on Communion that may rebuke Catholic political figures, including Biden, who defend abortion rights but personally oppose the practice.

During his visit to Paris on Friday, Blinken warned that the absence of an interim agreement to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities could prompt the U.S. to abandon efforts to rejoin a nuclear deal.

“We’ll see if we can bridge the differences, but they’re real, and we have to — we have to be able to bridge them,” Blinken said at a briefing in Paris after meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian.

“I would tell you that with regard to the [International Atomic Energy Agency], this remains a serious concern, a concern that we’ve communicated to Iran, and it needs to be … resolved.” 

The agency has said a three-month interim monitoring agreement reached Feb. 21 expired Thursday after being extended by one month. It said it was seeking an “immediate response” from Iran on whether it would extend the monitoring agreement, according to an internal agency statement seen by Reuters news agency.

Blinken acknowledged earlier Friday at a Paris news conference that the United States could eventually decide not to rejoin the agreement if negotiations in Vienna continue without progress.

“There will come a point, yes, where it will be very hard to return back to the standards set by the JCPOA,” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and major powers to curb its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations.

He called on Iran to make “difficult” decisions to advance talks that could revive the accord.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement Friday that “the opposing sides are the ones who must take the decisions.”

Negotiating parties have held talks for six weeks, and a sixth round of indirect talks ended last Sunday with major issues still unresolved.

Le Drian underscored Blinken’s warning, telling reporters in Paris on Friday it is up to Iran to move the talks forward.

“It’s been six weeks since the negotiations started again.  Some progress was achieved, and we will now be entering the most difficult times.  It will require some strong and courageous decisions on behalf of the new Iranian authorities, but now is the time,” said Le Drian.

Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron later Friday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, accompanied by Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Mathias Cormann, of Australia, speaks at the OECD headquarters in Paris, June 25, 2021.

The top U.S. diplomat arrived in France from Germany, where on Thursday he and German leaders said the U.S. and Germany were partnering to counter Holocaust denial and antisemitism, an effort the secretary of state said will “ensure that current and future generations learn about the Holocaust and also learn from it.”

Speaking at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Blinken said Holocaust denial and antisemitism go hand in hand with homophobia, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination, and have become “a rallying cry for those who seek to tear down our democracies.”

The top U.S. diplomat also met Thursday with Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba on the heels of an international conference focused on supporting Libya’s transition to a permanent, stable government.

Wednesday’s conference, hosted by Germany and the United Nations, included officials from 17 countries and reinforced support for national elections in Libya scheduled for late December.

Libya has experienced political instability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi from power.  Rival governments operated in separate parts of the country for years before a cease-fire deal in October that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days.

This report includes information from Reuters and AFP.