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After NATO meeting, Secretary of State Blinken will head to the Middle East


Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his third trip to the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. His trip began at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where Blinken said diplomatic work by the U.S. is responsible for the current pause in the fighting in Gaza.


ANTONY BLINKEN: We'll be focused on making - doing what we can to extend the pause so that we can continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary. She joins us now. Michele, so what is he hoping to accomplish on this latest trip to the Middle East?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yeah, so he's going to Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he'll meet with Palestinian officials. And he has a few goals, A. The U.S. wants to expand the hostage deal that has seen some, but not all, of the hostages freed by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners released in Israel and a pause in the fighting. The U.S. wants to see all those hostages out and for the pause to be extended. Blinken also wants to ramp up international aid to Gaza and make sure Israel does much more to protect Palestinian civilians in the next phase of its operation against Hamas. You know, thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed so far in Gaza. And then he also wants to start talking about the day after.

MARTÍNEZ: So what is the U.S. saying about what happens to Gaza when the fighting stops?

KELEMEN: So Blinken has set out kind of a few broad markers. The U.S. doesn't want Israel to reoccupy Gaza, and it doesn't want Palestinians permanently displaced. Blinken says the only way to resolve this, you know, is to have a Palestinian state with Gaza as part of that. But there are a lot of doubts about how the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, can reestablish itself in Gaza. Those are the kinds of things that he wants to - everyone in the region to start talking about. He also wants to make sure that the conflict doesn't engulf the whole region. Blinken is going to see some Arab foreign ministers when he goes to the climate conference in Dubai at the end of the week, and that will be part of that discussion.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Blinken was at NATO headquarters today, or is at NATO headquarters today, to talk about Russia's war in Ukraine. So what are NATO allies saying about the state of that war?

KELEMEN: Well, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says that Ukraine has had some big wins in the past year and that Russia has, in his words, fallen backward. He says Russia is weaker, but he says Russia should not be underestimated. It continues to launch drones and missiles at Ukraine's energy infrastructure ahead of what could be another really tough winter. So he says Ukraine needs continued support from all of the allies, and that was the big focus of the meetings here today. They also talked about Ukraine's pathway to NATO membership, and they held a first high-level meeting of the so-called NATO-Ukraine Council.

MARTÍNEZ: Now he has one more high-level meeting on his schedule ahead of a stop in Israel. Tell us about that.

KELEMEN: Yeah, he's going to North Macedonia, which is hosting a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. That's a 57-nation group that has historically played an important role in human rights in the countries of Europe and the former Soviet Union. Russia's foreign minister is expected to be there, so Ukraine and the Baltic states are boycotting. But Blinken decided to go ahead with the visit, though he's not expected to have any one-on-one encounters with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, traveling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.