The world is watching us,' Secretary of State Antony Blinken says
Antony Blinken, seen at a joint news conference in Paris in 2015 when he was deputy secretary of state, has been tapped to be the top US diplomat STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN AFP/File

Secretary of State Antony Blinken got to work Wednesday with a warning that the world's eyes were on the United States to see if it can heal deep divisions.

Blinken, a veteran diplomat and confidant of President Joe Biden, promised to rebuild morale and respect in a welcome ceremony at the State Department front entrance that was extraordinary for what was lacking -- crowds.

With Covid-19 raging, Blinken asked that only a bare minimum of employees, all masked, come to see him -- and noted that just days earlier, barricades had been protecting the usually staid building near the National Mall in the wake of a failed insurrection at the Capitol.

"The world is watching us intently right now. They want to know if we can heal our nation," Blinken said.

"They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example," he said, "if we'll will put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time."

He said that the challenges included the pandemic as well as "climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries."

Blinken said of the turbulent times, "The president is committed to getting us through it as quickly as possible, so that very soon, we can all gather in person again and have confidence that the foundations of our democracy are strong."

Under former president Donald Trump, close Western allies were rattled by his jarringly undiplomatic approach as he voiced fondness for autocratic leaders.

The divisiveness spread to the State Department where Blinken's predecessor Mike Pompeo was a relentless defender of Trump, using his welcoming speech to vow "swagger" and spending his final days railing against multiculturalism and the media.

Blinken, who served as a deputy secretary of state under former president Barack Obama, promised to listen to dissenting views and said pointedly, "I will have your back."

Trump fired the US ambassador to Ukraine as Trump sought to dig up dirt on Biden, a scandal that led to his first impeachment.

"I cannot promise that you will support every choice I make as your secretary. But I can promise an open door and an open mind," Blinken said.

Blinken, known for his even temper, was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate 78-22 with many members of Trump's Republican Party backing him, a turnaround from the narrow approval on partisan lines for Trump's two secretaries of state.

Blinken got to work Tuesday with calls to his counterparts from neighbors Canada and Mexico as well as top US allies Japan and South Korea, key players in what will likely be a defining issue of his tenure -- the rise of China.

He is expected later Wednesday to hold a news conference, a sign of early commitment to engaging with the media after tensions during the Trump administration.

Blinken in his confirmation hearing signalled a shift from Trump by pursuing diplomacy, including with Iran, but also pledged continuity including in the hard line on China.