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It has been a tough year for America's top diplomat

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's been a busy year for America's top diplomats. Secretary of State Antony Blinken crisscrossed the Middle East as war raged in Gaza. He traveled to Ukraine and tried to rally the world and U.S. lawmakers to continue backing Kyiv in the face of Russia's invasion. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The images out of Gaza and the devastating civilian death toll have led most countries to demand a cease-fire, and many see this as America's war, too, as the U.S. backs Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says it's striking that no one is making demands of Hamas, which started this latest conflict with its attack on Israel on October 7.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: How can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim?

KELEMEN: He says the U.S. has been working hard to get more aid into Gaza and is encouraging Israel to move quickly to what he calls a low-intensity phase of the conflict, more targeted operations with fewer civilians killed.

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BLINKEN: We continue to believe that Israel does not have to choose between removing the threat of Hamas and minimizing the toll on civilians in Gaza. It has an obligation to do both, and it has a strategic interest to do both.

KELEMEN: And he says he's talking to everyone in the region about how to bring lasting peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians. From his Arab counterparts, he says he still hears a common refrain.

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BLINKEN: They are looking for American leadership, and we're working to provide that.

KELEMEN: Speaking at his year-end news conference, Secretary Blinken also made the case for continued U.S. support to Ukraine.

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BLINKEN: Our support hasn't just helped Ukrainians, 90% of the security assistance that we've provided to Ukraine has been spent here in the United States, benefiting American businesses, workers, communities.

KELEMEN: He says Russia is weaker and NATO is stronger, but says President Vladimir Putin is betting that political divisions in the U.S. will block continued aid for Ukraine.

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BLINKEN: We have proven him wrong before. We will prove him wrong again.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration also remains focused on China. Blinken went there in June to restart high-level diplomacy months after an earlier trip was scuttled over the U.S. shootdown of a suspected Chinese spy balloon. He says the U.S. and China are now taking practical steps to manage their competition.

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BLINKEN: We've secured China's cooperation on reducing the flow of precursor chemicals that are fueling the synthetic drug crisis. We're restoring military-to-military communications at all levels to reduce the possibility of miscalculation and conflict. And we've agreed to discuss risks and safety around artificial intelligence.

KELEMEN: It's a long to-do list for Secretary Blinken as the U.S. heads into an election year and the conflict in Gaza draws much of the world's attention.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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.

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