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Blinken Confirms The U.S. Is Not Buying Greenland

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You can tell a lot about the foreign policy priorities of an administration by the travel itinerary of a secretary of state. America's current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, will be going to the Middle East soon now that there's a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. But while the fighting was intense, Mr. Blinken was thousands of miles away, focusing on longer-term issues in the Arctic. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken has made a point of trying to turn a page from the Trump administration. That means focusing again on climate change and reassuring Greenland that the U.S. isn't out to buy it.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: I'm in Greenland because the United States deeply values our partnership and wants to make it even stronger.

KELEMEN: That was on Thursday at the end of a five-day Arctic trip. Greenland's foreign minister, Pele Broberg, was enthusiastic.

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PELE BROBERG: This is not considered a real estate deal. A real estate means land with nothing on it, nobody on it. Secretary Blinken has made it very clear that he's here for the people living in the Arctic, for the people living in Greenland.

KELEMEN: Like everyone, the Greenlandic official said he'd like to see the Middle East conflict resolved, but he was glad that Blinken didn't upend his trip for that.

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BROBERG: It's a matter of pride that Secretary Blinken has honored us with his visit on this trip, and we do realize that they have many obligations around the world.

KELEMEN: Still, it was jarring at times to watch the secretary take off in a helicopter to tour the melting ice caps of Greenland while the Middle East needed attention or to be in a motorcade as a bus driver pointed out the local wildlife.

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UNIDENTIFIED BUS DRIVER: That's the musk ox in its natural habitat.

KELEMEN: The musk ox and arctic hare showed up as if on schedule as we wound our way through the barren landscape to a radar station and lookout. Throughout the week, the Middle East was just a phone call away for Secretary Blenkin. His aides say he spent a lot of time on the phone and planned to go only once it was clear he could move the ball forward.

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BLINKEN: If that would serve the purpose of moving beyond the violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

KELEMEN: That will be the goal of a trip in the days ahead. In the Arctic, he had other business to do, like defrosting relations with Russia.

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BLINKEN: Sergey, welcome. It's good to see you.

SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: That's Russia's longtime foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

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LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: Lavrov said it was clear to everyone why a routine meeting on the sidelines of the Arctic Council has created such a sensation. The two men are trying to keep dismal U.S.-Russian relations from sinking further and planning ahead for a Biden-Putin summit. Other Arctic Council members were far more enthusiastic at seeing the secretary of state focusing on climate change and other issues they care about. By the end of the week, Blinken had been with his Danish and Greenlandic counterparts in three different cities on three different days.

You guys are seeing each other basically every day this week.

BLINKEN: We're - this is a traveling roadshow. We're going to go somewhere else next, right?

KELEMEN: His Danish counterpart joked that he was ready to hop on the plane back to Washington.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, just back from Copenhagen, Reykjavik and Kangerlussuaq. Well, here's how the locals in Greenland say it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Kangerlussuaq.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.