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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. He talks about the day after and the day after that. The only way to resolve this 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 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.



As Blinken heads to the Middle East, President Biden focuses on his domestic agenda today.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. He's traveling to Pueblo, Colo., to tout his administration's investment in clean energy jobs and is expected to take some swipes at right-wing Republicans.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram is in Colorado with Biden. Hey, Deepa.


FADEL: So why Pueblo? What's going on there?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. Well, there's a couple reasons. First, he's going to visit a plant owned by the largest wind turbine tower manufacturer in the world. The South Korean-based company is called CS Wind, and they say that thanks to Biden's major climate and jobs bill, they're adding hundreds of jobs in the state in the next few years. And secondly, Pueblo is in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by right-wing Republican Lauren Boebert. She's one of former Trump's biggest supporters and has been a prominent critic of President Biden, particularly on this climate and jobs bill, which she says should be repealed. So that's why Biden is in Pueblo today - to prop up his big legislative wins and to, as you said earlier, take a swipe at right-wing Republicans he's been so critical of. Biden is expected to talk about how he thinks Boebert and Republicans like her are a threat to the progress that he says his administration has made.

FADEL: Now, we've heard Biden criticize right-wing lawmakers. He calls them MAGA Republicans repeatedly. But he doesn't often go after individual members like this in their own district. What's the thinking here?

SHIVARAM: And this is an interesting move. I talked to Adam Green, who leads the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. It's a left-leaning political advocacy organization. He's been meeting with the White House and White House officials lately to talk about the president's economic messaging. And he says one of the things Democrats need to do more of is lean into the fight on issues with extreme Republicans, whether it's about health care or jobs or the economy.

ADAM GREEN: In order for the public to understand the difference between Democrats and Republicans on things like jobs or lower-priced prescription drugs, we need to see a fight.

SHIVARAM: And Green says that, generally speaking here, people love drama. It gets more attention. And he says for Biden to go to Congresswoman Boebert's district and pick a fight with her specifically is a good strategy because of how loudly critical she is of Biden.

GREEN: So this particular trip, in particular, might be outsized in its influence and is a good down payment on a larger strategy of picking smart fights with Republicans.

SHIVARAM: This idea that we've been talking about of drawing contrasts with Republicans is something that we've heard the White House try to do when it comes to selling Biden's economic agenda, but this is definitely a more pointed way of going about it. And you have to keep in mind, Leila, this comes at a time when recent polls have shown that the public still doesn't approve of how Biden has been handling the economy. So 11 months out from the election, it'll be interesting to see how this larger strategy here of picking smart fights, as Adam Green says, could impact public opinion, especially because this district has a really tight race. In 2022, it was super close. So it's a potential place for Democrats to flip the seat blue next year.

FADEL: Now, this trip was supposed to happen last month but got postponed because of the crisis in the Middle East. Does this mean Biden is turning his attention back to domestic issues now?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, that's right. The president was supposed to make this trip out in about mid-October but canceled at the last minute. But the White House says the president's been working across, quote, "a range of issues." In addition to this Colorado trip, he's traveling more domestically in the coming weeks. They just announced two upcoming trips to Philadelphia and the Boston area.

I will note, though, that during this trip in Colorado, you know, the conflict in the Middle East is still top of mind. There are still protesters that are calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel that the president's motorcade has passed by. Of course, we've seen some folks who are also supportive of the president as well. And as Michele Kelemen just noted, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, heads to the Middle East today, which is the last day of the extended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram, thanks so much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.


MARTÍNEZ: Annual climate negotiations kick off tomorrow in the United Arab Emirates.

FADEL: Countries are currently not on track to meet the agreed-upon limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. What does that mean, and what would the U.S. look like if warming goes beyond that benchmark?

MARTÍNEZ: Lauren Sommer from NPR's climate desk is here to tell us. Lauren, so if the world goes past 1.5 degrees to 2 or 2.5 degrees Celsius, that difference might seem small on paper, and it sounds small when I just said it, but what would it actually look like on the ground?

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Right, yeah. I mean, half a degree kind of seems minor, but it makes a massive difference in terms of extreme weather in the U.S. and, you know, as a result, the cost to lives and property - because, you know, that number - 1.5 Celsius, which is 2.7 Fahrenheit - it's an average. It takes into account all the temperatures across the planet all year. But warming doesn't happen evenly, and the U.S. is actually heating up faster than that.

MARTÍNEZ: So does that mean if the planet goes beyond 1.5 degrees of warming, the U.S. would get hotter than that?

SOMMER: Yeah, exactly. So say the world reaches 3 degrees Celsius, which is 5.5 Fahrenheit. Parts of the U.S., like Alaska and northern states, would heat up much more - twice as much in some cases. And when it's hotter, that affects the severity of the weather, like extreme storms.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And the U.S. has seen some very destructive hurricanes in recent years. Would that trend keep getting worse?

SOMMER: Yeah, hurricanes, tropical storms are getting more intense. But, you know, so are storms in general because a hotter atmosphere, it can hold more water vapor. I talked to Deanna Hence, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and she says that means clouds can drop more rain.

DEANNA HENCE: Every time we have a heavy rainfall event, it's more likely to be even heavier than what we're typically used to seeing.

SOMMER: Hence says, you know, that could mean 30 to 40% more rain in the eastern U.S. from those extreme storms. And that can overwhelm storm drains and infrastructure, and that causes flooding even if you don't live next to a river.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. I know the U.S. saw some pretty extreme heat waves this year. How much worse do you think those could get if the Earth warms, say, more than 1.5 degrees Celsius?

SOMMER: Yeah, right. I mean, that trend keeps going. So if the world warms 2 degrees Celsius, the Southern U.S. could see more than 30 extra days above 95. That's a month more of days like that.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. All right, so world leaders meet this week to negotiate how to avoid a future like this. Is it inevitable, really, at this point that the Earth goes beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius?

SOMMER: Yeah, I mean, if countries don't change course. So if we keep burning fossil fuels at the same rate, it looks like the planet will go beyond 1.5 sometime in the next decade. But Deepti Singh, who is an assistant professor at Washington State University, says, you know, it's not too late.

DEEPTI SINGH: We're not destined to some catastrophic climate. We know that we can have a future that is more equitable and less volatile if we limit the warming through our actions today.

SOMMER: She says every fraction of a degree matters to limit the impacts of climate change. You know, it's not all or nothing. So 1.6 is just as important as 1.5 degrees when it comes to the planet's future.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Lauren Sommer from NPR's climate desk. Lauren, thank you.

SOMMER: Thanks. 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
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.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.