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Blinken calls for more support for Ukraine and a united front against China


Secretary of State Antony Blinken huddled with NATO partners today to keep a united front on Ukraine and on China.


ANTONY BLINKEN: What I've seen, not only at NATO, but also, for example, with the European Union as well as in other parts of the world, is a growing convergence in the approach to the challenges that China poses.

SHAPIRO: Secretary Blinken there, speaking at the end of his trip to Romania.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, a Senate committee is holding hearings for nominees to be ambassadors to some key countries, including Russia. NPR's Michele Kelemen is covering all of this. Hey, Michele.


SHAPIRO: How unusual is it for NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - to be talking about China, a Pacific country?

KELEMEN: Yeah. You know, I mean, China is the biggest priority for the Biden administration. And the U.S. has been pressuring NATO not just to recognize the challenges posed by China, which the alliance did in a document earlier this year, but also to really address those challenges. So Blinken talked about China's rapid and opaque military buildup - those were his words - and its cooperation with Russia. And more broadly, he said that there's a competition now to shape the world order. He wants Europe to be more careful about its business dealings with China to make sure, for instance, that China doesn't get sensitive technology that could benefit its military. The U.S. has taken some steps on export controls and is now hoping that Europeans are going to follow suit.

So Blinken says the U.S. and its partners have complex and consequential relationships with China - again, those are his words - but he believes that they are coming together on a common approach.

SHAPIRO: And of course, Ukraine was also a big theme of the talks in Romania. What was the message coming out of that NATO meeting?

KELEMEN: Well, it was, as the U.S. hoped, a message of unity. Secretary Blinken accuses Russia of trying to freeze and starve Ukrainians and raise the cost for the rest of the world in hopes that countries now supporting Ukraine will abandon those efforts. And he said that NATO just can't let that happen. The U.S. has announced some new aid to help Ukraine restore electricity, but Russia continues to pound civilian infrastructure in the country, and it's shaping up to be a really tough winter for everybody.

SHAPIRO: OK, let's turn back to Washington, where, as I mentioned, there are lots of confirmation hearings for ambassadors, including one for Russia today. Who is she, and what's the job that she faces if confirmed?

KELEMEN: Yeah. Her name is Lynne Tracy. She's a career foreign service officer, and her nearly 30-year career has been mostly in the former Soviet Union. She's currently the ambassador to Armenia, and she was No. 2 at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, so she told senators today that she knows what she's getting into.


LYNNE TRACY: My tour as deputy chief of mission in Russia was already in a period after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, when our relations were hurtling downward and we faced regular harassment of our staff. I personally experienced some of that.

KELEMEN: And, you know, Ari, it's really only gotten worse since then. In just one sign this week of how fraught relations are, the Russians called off talks at the last minute on extending a nuclear arms reduction treaty. The Russians say they won't talk until Washington stops arming Ukraine. Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee raised a lot of other problems, from embassy operations to detained Americans and also jailed opposition figures in Russia. And Ambassador Tracy says, if confirmed, she's going to be focused on all of these issues - a really tough job ahead.

SHAPIRO: Long list of priorities for the new ambassador in Russia if confirmed. That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.