Michele Kelemen

A former NPR Moscow bureau chief, Michele Kelemen now covers 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.

In her latest beat, Kelemen has been traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from Asia to the Middle East and Europe, tracking the Obama administration's broad foreign policy agenda. She also followed the two previous Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and was part of the NPR team that won the 2007 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for coverage of the war in Iraq.

As NPR's Moscow bureau chief, Kelemen chronicled the end of the Yeltsin era and Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power. She recounted the terrible toll of the latest war in Chechnya and the tragedy of the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk. She also brought to listeners a lighter side of Russia, with stories about modern day Russian literature and sports.

Kelemen came to NPR in September 1998, after eight years working for the Voice of America. There, she learned the ropes as a news writer, newscaster and show host.

Michele earned her Bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Russian and East European Affairs and International Economics.



Wed September 21, 2011
Middle East

U.N. Membership Could Give Palestinians A Diplomatic Tool

Palestinians say they are undeterred and plan to seek full U.N. membership as a state on territories Israel occupied in the 1967 war. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to present his application when he speaks to the U.N. on Friday. The issue is dominating high level meetings as countries scramble to try to revive a peace process that has failed for decades.


Tue September 20, 2011
Conflict In Libya

President Obama Praises Libya's Political Transition

Originally published on Tue September 20, 2011 7:20 pm

President Obama meets with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the Libyan Transitional National Council, at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday.
Allan Tannenbaum-Pool Getty Images

President Obama met Libya's interim leader Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and held up the country as a model of what the U.N. can do to protect civilians from atrocities.

Obama also pledged continued support and encouraged Libya's new leaders to keep their promises to forge a just, democratic society.

Libyan rebels have yet to find ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi and fighting continues in the country. Still, Obama went to the meeting with a hopeful message.

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Mon September 19, 2011
Middle East

Obama Pressured At Home To Do More For Israel

Originally published on Mon September 26, 2011 1:35 pm

Israel's most vocal supporters in the U.S. have long complained that the United Nations is a bastion of anti-Israeli sentiment, and this year's General Assembly debate could be worse than ever.

Palestinians are seeking U.N. membership as a state even though there's no peace deal with Israel. Israel is also under diplomatic pressure from regional powers Turkey and Egypt.

Gabriela Shalev was Israel's ambassador to the United Nations until last year, and as world leaders start gathering for this high-level General Assembly debate, she's sounding quite nervous.

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Sat September 17, 2011

U.S. Underwhelmed With Emerging Powers At U.N.

It's the time of year when world leaders converge at the United Nations headquarters in New York. And this year, there will be a lot of talk about multilateral diplomacy — a priority for the Obama administration since it came to office.

Obama's team has courted the world's rising powers, even publicly backing India's hopes to one day be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. But now that India, along with South Africa and Brazil, have rotating seats on the council, U.S. officials and many human rights activists complain they're not living up to expectations.

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Tue September 13, 2011
Middle East

Palestinian Plan Puts U.S. In A Bind

A Palestinian flag is raised in front of European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday. The Palestinians are expected to seek statehood at the United Nations next week.
John Thys AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration is scrambling to head off what it fears will be a diplomatic train wreck at the United Nations next week.

After years of gridlock in Mideast negotiations, the Palestinians plan to seek U.N. membership as a state on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. That territory includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and the plan would go through the Security Council, where the U.S. has already promised to use its veto.

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Fri September 2, 2011
Middle East

U.N. Review Of Israeli Flotilla Raid Reopens Wounds

The U.N.'s review of an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish flotilla last year was intended to help resolve the matter, but its release Friday only seemed to reopen the wound.

While Israel was pleased that the panel found its blockade of Gaza legitimate, Turkey has expelled Israel's ambassador and downgraded relations.

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Thu August 25, 2011
Middle East

Iranian Exile Group Lobbies To Get Off Terrorist List

Supporters of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian exile group, demonstrate in front of the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands, on Aug. 4, 2009. The U.S. State Department is reviewing the group's status on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
Valerie Kuypers AFP/Getty Images

An Iranian exile group is ramping up its lobbying campaign to get off a U.S. terrorist list, and the issue has sparked a fierce debate among foreign policy experts about the wisdom of such a move.

Supporters of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq see it as a potentially useful group in countering Iran. It has provided the U.S. information about Iran's nuclear program, for instance. Others see it as a dangerous cult and warn that taking it off the Foreign Terrorist Organization list would undercut peaceful Iranian dissidents, who want nothing to do with the MEK.

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Tue August 23, 2011

A New Obstacle To Normal Relations For Sudan, U.S.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir speaks of the capital Khartoum on July 12. Sudan says it should be taken off the U.S. terrorism list, but Washington says it is concerned about new fighting in the south of the country.
Ashraf Shazly AFP/Getty Images

When Sudan allowed South Sudan to become an independent nation last month, it hoped this would put an end to years of friction with the United States.

More specifically, Sudan desperately wanted to be removed from Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism and get out from under the many sanctions that come along with that designation.

But now the U.S. and the United Nations are raising concerns about fighting, and possible atrocities, near the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

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Tue August 16, 2011

Hillary Clinton: U.S. Diplomacy Is Stretched Thin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the bruising budget battles in Washington are "casting a pall" over US diplomacy abroad and may hurt America's ability to influence events at a crucial moment in the Middle East.

Clinton joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the National Defense University in Washington on Tuesday to appeal to Congress to come up with a budget deal that doesn't undercut U.S. national security interests.

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Sat August 13, 2011

Famine In Somalia Also Taking Toll On Al-Shabaab

Displaced Somalis waits in a queue for food-aid rations on August 11, 2011 at an IDP camp in Mogadishu. The United Nations has officially declared famine in Somalia for the first time this century.

How can you feed starving people without feeding an insurgency as well? That is one of the challenges the Obama administration faces in providing aid to Somalia.

As the U.S. and other donors scramble to help Somalis survive a famine, some experts see an opportunity of sorts. The drought, they say, seems to be starving the Islamist militia group al-Shabaab of resources, limiting its ability to wreak havoc in Somalia.

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Sat July 30, 2011

Conflict Zone Slows Aid For Somalia's Famine Victims

U.S. officials are sounding increasingly frustrated that they and other big donors can't mount the kind of humanitarian operation that is needed in Somalia. Violence in Mogadishu this week is just the latest of their troubles.

Aid work is never easy, but the troubles add up quickly in a conflict zone like Somalia, says Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz.

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Thu July 28, 2011
Middle East

Worries Grow Over Palestinian U.N. Bid

Originally published on Mon August 1, 2011 11:46 am

Negotiating Palestinian statehood was an early priority for President Obama's administration. But these days, U.S. diplomats are spending much of their time trying to stop the Palestinians from going to the United Nations to try to win diplomatic recognition.

Palestinians say they have no other choice, since negotiations are deadlocked.

Some former Israeli officials came to Washington this week to urge the U.S. to help.

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Wed July 27, 2011

Libyan Diplomat Takes On A New, Yet Familiar, Role

Ali Aujali (second from right) listens to President Obama speak at the State Department in May. Aujali was Moammar Gadhafi's ambassador to the U.S., but resigned after the Libyan uprising began. He now represents the rebels' Transitional National Council.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Now that the U.S. has recognized the rebel government in Libya, the Transitional National Council, as it is known, wants access to the country's frozen assets. The rebel representative in Washington, D.C., also wants his office back; until earlier this year, Ali Aujali was the Libyan ambassador, but he hasn't been able to get back into his office for months.

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Thu July 14, 2011

U.S., Allies Optimistic Gadhafi's 'Days Are Numbered'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with the Contact Group on a Libya road map on May 5, 2011, in Rome.
Giorgio Cosulich Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top diplomats are gathering in Istanbul, Turkey, this week to talk about Libya amid fresh optimism that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may be looking for a way out.

French officials have said that the Gadhafi regime is "sending messengers everywhere" to explore ways to end the conflict. U.S. officials have suggested that his regime is suffering from low morale and is running out of supplies.

Before setting off to Istanbul, Clinton told reporters that she's seen "contradictory signals" from Gadhafi's camp.

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Mon June 13, 2011

Clinton Pushes African Nations To Break With Gadhafi

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged African countries to break with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and pressure him to stop attacking civilians. During a trip to Ethiopia, she also called on the north and south of Sudan to quickly resolve their differences – as Southern Sudan prepares to become the world's newest country.

Clinton, the first secretary of state to visit the African Union's headquarters, came with a message that regional leaders should learn something from the Arab uprisings.

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Sun June 12, 2011

Clinton's Africa Tour Underscores The Power Of Women

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is touring U.S. aid projects in Tanzania Sunday, part of her big push to have women and girls at the center of development efforts in Africa. Food security is another key issue, as rising food prices spark fears of instability. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.


Thu June 9, 2011
Conflict In Libya

Clinton Urges Preparation For A Post-Gadhafi Libya

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's days are numbered, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international conference on Libya on Thursday, and the U.S. and others need to prepare for a post-Gadhafi Libya.

Diplomats from more than 20 nations met in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss the endgame and to boost support for the opposition.

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Fri May 27, 2011
Middle East

Change Appears Inevitable In Syria, Analysts Say

U.N. Security Council diplomats have been studying a draft resolution condemning Syria for its deadly crackdown on demonstrators protesting the rule of President Bashar Assad. As the crisis drags on and the Security Council weighs its options, U.S. policymakers are trying to plan for what might come next. In Washington, there is a growing sense that Assad's rule is coming to an end.

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Thu May 26, 2011
Middle East

U.S. Concern Grows As Turmoil In Yemen Drags On

The United States is pulling some of its embassy staff out of Yemen amid a bloody political crisis there. Yemen's longtime leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is refusing to step aside, and clashes have erupted in the capital city of Sanaa.

The U.S. is worried not only about the safety of Americans there, but also about what instability in Yemen means for counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

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Tue May 24, 2011
Middle East

Mideast Peace Deal 'Must Leave Israel With Security'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday. He's promising to lay out a vision for peace with the Palestinians, but there are no signs that Israelis and Palestinians are ready to talk to each other.

On the eve of his appearance before Congress, Netanyahu gave a bit of a preview to more than 10,000 supporters at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC.

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Fri May 20, 2011
Middle East

Obama Uses Speech To Support Democratic Change

President Obama is to host Israel's Prime Minister at the White House Friday — a day after calling on Israel to take bold steps for peace with the Palestinians. Obama spelled out some details for what a peace deal might look like. He also used Thursday's speech at the State Department to talk about how the U.S. is supporting democratic change in a tumultuous time for north Africa and the Middle East.


Mon May 16, 2011
Middle East

Obama Pressed To Get Mideast Peace Talks Moving

President Obama's speechwriters have been working on their latest message to the Arab and Muslim world. The administration has been struggling to come up with a consistent response to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The president also is under pressure from some quarters to do more to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as well.

All that will be on his agenda as he plays host this week to Jordan's King Abdullah and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Fri May 13, 2011

George Mitchell Resigns

George Mitchell is resigning as the Obama administration's point man for Mideast peace talks, after failing to sustain direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The announcement comes just days before the president meets with two Mideast leaders in Washington.


Fri May 13, 2011

Rebel Leader Asks U.S. For Frozen Libya Funds

Mahmoud Jibril of the Libyan Transitional National Council talks with reporters after meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

A top representative of the Libyan opposition is making the rounds in Washington, including a planned visit to the White House on Friday.

Mahmoud Jibril is the prime minister of the so-called Transitional National Council. His goal is to persuade the United States to recognize the body as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people — and to give it some of the Libyan money the U.S. has frozen.

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Sat April 30, 2011

UN-Led Syria Probe A Win For U.S. Diplomacy

The Obama administration is slowly ratcheting up pressure on Syria, slapping more targeted sanctions on some top officials — including the brother of President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. and its partners failed to get the UN Security Council to even agree to a press statement on the Syrian government crackdown on protesters, but it fared better in the UN Human Rights Council, which voted Friday to launch an investigation.

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Wed April 13, 2011

U.S. Attempting To Reignite Israel-Palestinian Talks

The Obama administration is trying to head off a Palestinian effort to seek recognition at the United Nations — the U.S. would rather see a negotiated settlement.

Last year, talks that the Obama administration launched came to a grinding halt over the issue of Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank. The Palestinians' Plan B is to look to the United Nations for help.

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Fri April 8, 2011

Clinton Has Tough Words For China On Human Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some tough words for China today — amid a crackdown on dissent there.

She unveiled the department's 35th annual human-rights report saying the struggle for human rights begins by telling the truth — and in China that means highlighting the plight of political prisoners, who are growing in number.

As he was putting the final touches on this year's human-rights report, the State Department's point person on the issue, Michael Posner, said that China is the country that keeps him awake at night.

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Fri April 8, 2011
Digital Life

U.S. Eyes Global Internet Freedoms

The State Department's point person on human rights says his office is in a "cat and mouse" game with authoritarian governments that are trying to restrict free speech on the Internet.

"We are trying to stay ahead of the curve and to provide technology, training and diplomatic support to allow people to freely express their views," Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told a group of reporters at the State Department this week.

Internet freedoms will be one focus on this year's Human Rights report, which the State Department is releasing Friday.

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Thu April 7, 2011

U.N. Chief On Africa Clashes: 'Doing Our Proper Work'

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Washington on Thursday, making the rounds on Capitol Hill in hopes that the U.N. won't fall victim too much to U.S. budget cuts. His trip comes at a time when the U.N. has become more assertive, both in Libya and in the Ivory Coast.

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