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Blinken Slams Putin For Crackdown On Navalny Supporters, Warns On Iran, China


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a welcome ceremony after arriving at the State Department in Washington on January 27.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the Biden administration is considering possible action against Russia, a day after police used batons and tasers against protesters demanding the release of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

In a TV interview aired on February 1, Blinken said he was "deeply disturbed by the violent crackdown."

He also said in the wide-ranging interview that China acted "egregiously" to undermine Hong Kong and warned Iran was months away from the ability to produce the fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon.

Russia's Foreign Ministry claimed that Washington was behind the protests, alleging a "gross intervention in Russia's affairs."

"The Russian government makes a big mistake if it believes that this is about us," he said in the interview with NBC News. "It's about them. It's about the government. It's about the frustration that the Russian people have with corruption, with autocracy, and I think they need to look inward, not outward."

In the interview, taped on January 31, Blinken did not commit to specific sanctions against Moscow. He said he was reviewing a response to the actions against Navalny, as well as Russian election interference in 2020, the Solar Wind hack, and alleged bounties for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

"The president could not have been clearer in his conversation with President [Vladimir] Putin," Blinken said of Joe Biden's telephone call last week with the Russian leader.

On Iran, Blinken warned that Tehran was months away from being able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, saying it could be only "a matter of weeks" if Iran continued to lift restraints in the nuclear deal.

He said the United States was willing to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran does and then work with U.S. allies and partners on a "longer and stronger" agreement including other issues. Pressed about whether the release of detained Americans, which was not part of previous negotiations, would be an absolute condition for an expanded nuclear treaty, he did not commit.

"Irrespective of...any deal, those Americans need to be released. Period," he said. "We're going to focus on making sure that they come home one way or another."

Regarding China, Blinken said that despite World Health Organization inspectors on the ground in Wuhan, Beijing is "falling far short of the mark" when it comes to allowing experts access to the sites where the coronavirus was discovered.

He called China's lack of transparency a "profound problem" that must be addressed.

Blinken said the Biden administration would be looking to see whether the U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese imports by the previous Trump administration were doing more harm to the United States than to their target.

He also criticized Chinese actions in Hong Kong, where he said China had acted "egregiously" to undermine its commitments to the semiautonomous island.

Under a sweeping national security law criminalizing secession and subversion, pro-democracy demonstrators have been swept up in waves of arrests.

With reporting by Reuters
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