Person of Interest: Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela New Leader at WTO.

On March 1, 2021 the World Trade Organization got a new boss, Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela. With her election, two precedents were set: the new chief of the WTO is both the first woman and the first African to hold the post.

Okonjo-Iwela served as Nigerian finance minister and has spent 25 years with the World Bank where she was managing director. She is a Harvard graduate who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from MIT.

While the WTO post is a brilliant cap to a distinguished career, the job will also require her skill and experience to revitalize the WTO, make it relevant once again and position it to handle twenty-first century challenges like the COVID pandemic. In her first days in office she said her priority is to work with members to deal with health and economic issues brought about by the pandemic.

Issues on her table include brokering a fisheries deal and expediting vaccine transfer worldwide. World Health Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that his intention to meet the new director of the WTO to discuss with her the question of vaccine production and distribution.

After gridlock and stalemate at the WTO it may be the right time for a new, qualified and ambitious chief to set priorities and lead the way. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela looks like the right person for the job.

Photo: Courtesy of WTO

Lavrov Spells Out Russia’s Position on China, Korea, the US and Japan.

On January 18, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov gave his annual news conference. The online event lasted just short of 3 hours. After an initial statement spelling out Russia’s position on a number of different issues, Lavrov took questions from journalists around the world. Minister Lavrov was never short of an answer and provided a clear explanation of the Russian view of things.

Mr. Lavrov began by talking about Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V vaccine for the Corona virus. He expressed Russia’s desire to cooperate with other countries in dealing with the pandemic. Germany is now testing Sputnik V, while countries like Belarus, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Algeria have already approved the vaccine which is said to be 91+% effective.

When questioned about the relations between Russia and China, Lavrov said that there is good cooperation between Russia and China, and that in 2021 there will be special emphasis on scientific research between them. He noted that not only have China and Russia stood together on many issues in the United Nations, but also that this is the 20th anniversary of their treaty of friendship. He went on to say that China and Russia have conducted military exercises and continue to do so, not only on land but also in the air.

Good and kind relations with Japan are at the forefront of Russian thinking he said, and that the joint military exercises with China are not targeting any specific country, but are rather designed to protect domestic borders. Mr. Lavrov expressed concern with Japan’s willingness to accept ABM missile systems from the United States. He also noted the US intention to place short and medium range missile systems in the area in addition to the ABM systems.

As for the Korean peninsula, Mr. Lavrov said that while there had been problems between the DPRK and the ROK, and between the DPRK and the US, there had been no actions that lead to military response. He added that Russia is interested for robust peace on the Korean peninsula and that Russia has a plan to offer to deal with the situation when the time is right.

Asked about the case of Russian politician Alexi Navalny, Lavrov said that it was a justice question and not a foreign ministry matter. When pressed further he said that there was not evidence of Mr. Navalny being poisoned with Novichok. He said Russia had not received any tissue samples or clothing samples containing the substance, and that Germany said that its armed forces had made the necessary tests but could not release the results for security reasons.

As for relations with the United States he said that Russia is not expecting any radical changes from the new administration and he wondered if a new START treat would be negotiated before it expires in February. He also said Russia is ready to discuss issues with the US such as:

  • Information security
  • Cyber crime
  • United Nations matters

In closing Mr. Lavrov thanked those organizations connected with helping the Russian diaspora or overseas Russians during the Corona virus pandemic and noted some members had received recognition from the Russian government for their contributions.


Person of Interest: Tony Blinken, Biden Foreign Policy Advisor.

To get an idea of former Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy when he becomes president, the best person to listen to is his top advisor, Tony Blinken.

Blinken, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University has been around politics and policy since 1994 when he was on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff. From 2002-2008 he was Democratic Staff Director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Blinken was Deputy Secretary of State from 2015-2017 and Deputy National Security Advisor. It is possible that he will be chosen to be National Security Advisor in a Biden administration.

In two interviews (links below) he outlines a possible direction for Biden foreign policy. It should come as no surprise that one of the first priorities will be mending relations with US allies who have been alienated by the substance and manner of Donald Trump’s policies toward allies, toward Europe and toward NATO.

The big question is relations with China. In the interviews Blinken suggests that the US is operating from a position of weakness regarding China and the first task is to reestablish good relations with US allies before dealing with China. He suggests that the US and China share many common interests internationally and that these are areas for cooperation. However, he stresses that the US must do this from a position of strength.

As for Iran, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” did not force Iran back to the bargaining table as the Trump administration had planned, nor did the crippling sanctions create regime change in Teheran. It is possible that the US might even return to the JCPOA under a Biden administration. The Europeans have been keeping the deal on life support, and it might well get new life.

While it is possible that a Biden administration would have to look inward to repair the damage done to all areas of American politics and daily life brought about by 4 years of the Trump policies, the US would still have both its international commitments and interests, and those would be addressed by people of a like mind to Tony Blinken.

Dialogue on American Foreign Policy and World Affairs: A Conversation with Former Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Hudson Institute)

Transcript: Joe Biden foreign policy adviser Anthony Blinken on COVID shortfalls, failures in Syria (CBS News)

Photo: US Department of State via flickr