Dogged by Mideast crisis, US envoy Blinken visits Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Denmark on Monday for talks on climate change, Arctic policy and Russia as calls grew for the Biden administration to take a tougher, more active stance on spiraling Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Blinken is seeing Danish leaders as well as top officials from Greenland and the Faeroe Islands in Copenhagen on Monday before he heads to Iceland for an Arctic Council meeting. That gathering will be marked by his first face-to-face talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a time of significantly heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Russia on Sunday called for an immediate ministerial-level session of the “quartet” of Mideast peacemakers to discuss the escalating Israeli-Palestinian crisis but there was no overt indication that the U.S. would agree. There was also no sign yet that Blinken was changing his travel plans, which currently have him returning to Washington from Reykjavik late Thursday after a brief stop in Greenland.

The Mideast quartet includes envoys from the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. With Blinken and Lavrov both attending the Arctic Council meeting, Iceland could serve as a venue for the group to gather.

The U.N. Security Council held an urgent session Sunday on the Mideast at which U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the administration was working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to stop the fighting. President Joe Biden spoke with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, Blinken worked the phones with his counterparts while flying to Copenhagen on Sunday, and a senior U.S. diplomat is in Israel meeting with the parties there.

Yet calls for a greater U.S. response are growing, especially in Congress, where a large number of Biden’s Democratic allies are clamoring for more action, including a demand from the administration for a cease-fire. Biden has thus far resisted such calls, reaffirming staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip while maintaining that both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal right to peace and security.

Israel on Monday unleashed a wave of new airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, saying it had destroyed 15 kilometers (9 miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. Gaza residents described the barrage as the heaviest since the war began a week ago. At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes and over 1,200 have been wounded, while Hamas rocket attacks have killed eight people in Israel.

In Denmark, Blinken met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe. He also saw the foreign ministers of Denmark’s semi-autonomous far north territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.

Climate change is expected to dominate the discussions. The Biden administration is seeking to restore U.S. credibility with allies on the topic after four years during which the Trump administration either downplayed the threat posed by climate change or urged other nations to take advantage of the commercial possibilities resulting from a loss of sea ice and melting glaciers.

After their meeting, Blinken and Frederiksen both noted the change.

“It’s a different approach,” Frederiksen told reporters. “That means a desire for cooperation around the Arctic region, where changes are taking place.”

In a statement, the State Department said Blinken “had emphasized the importance of advancing our mutual goals of combating the climate crisis, developing green technology, and continuing common efforts with the Kingdom of Denmark on the Arctic.”

Former President Donald Trump had also created a stir when he proposed purchasing Greenland from Denmark, an offer roundly rejected by both. Trump then canceled a scheduled state visit to Denmark in 2019, creating more ill feelings.

A senior U.S. official said Blinken hoped to get beyond any lingering doubts on Greenland by highlighting “all of the things that we’re doing with Greenland as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.”

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Jan Olsen contributed.