December 5th, 2013
03:08 PM ET

American teacher slain in Libya

By Elise Labott

American teacher Ronnie Smith has been shot and killed in Benghazi, according to the Facebook page of the international school in Libya where he worked.

The U.S. State Department confirmed the killing, and identified the educator as Ronald Thomas Smith II.

"The untimely death of Ronnie Smith has been felt by the whole school community," the International School Benghazi posted on its Facebook page. "He was a much loved teacher who supported students in their learning and always had time to help when asked. Ronnie was a professional who gave his time freely and without question. We do not understand why this has happened and it is extremely difficult for his students and his colleagues to accept."

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With Mideast peace in mind, Kerry coaxes Israel on Iran
December 5th, 2013
10:13 AM ET

With Mideast peace in mind, Kerry coaxes Israel on Iran

By Elise Labott

Jerusalem (CNN) - John Kerry’s ninth trip to Israel since becoming secretary of state could be among the most difficult.

He needs Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s buy-in for the two issues U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the centerpiece of his second term foreign policy – Iran and Middle East peace.

But at a time when the Israeli leader’s confidence in the United States is shaken over the Iran deal, his trust in the administration as broker of a peace deal with the Palestinians may waver.
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Is Washington joining 'bidding war' with Moscow over Eastern Europe?
December 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET

Is Washington joining 'bidding war' with Moscow over Eastern Europe?

By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott

John Kerry felt a happy hour at a Moldovan winery would serve as a fruitful backdrop for his message, not just to his hosts but to the demonstrators on the streets of Kiev.

This week the secretary of state had planned to visit the Ukrainian capital. But President Viktor Yanukovich's decision not to sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union drew the largest protests in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution and a violent government in response.

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Is Washington joining 'bidding war' with Moscow over Eastern Europe?
A man serves soup to anti-government protesters in Independence Square on December 4, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine.
December 4th, 2013
09:14 AM ET

Is Washington joining 'bidding war' with Moscow over Eastern Europe?

By Elise Labott

The protests in Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovich's last-minute decision not to sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union are the biggest in the country since the 2004 Orange Revolution that booted Yanukovich, then Prime Minister, from office.

And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was tough Tuesday in his criticism of the government's use of force against the peaceful demonstrators, saying "violence has no place in a modern European state."

But his decision to skip a visit to Kiev and attend a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wasn't necessarily a response to the political upheaval and a voice of support for the protesters, nor was it an indictment of the government's heavy-handed methods to combat it.

The snub was, in effect, a U.S. protest of the government's moves to align its trade interests with Moscow by deciding not to join the EU agreement. The so-called Eastern Partnership is designed to forge closer EU ties to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
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Uncertainty over security clouds NATO talks on Afghanistan
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prior to the NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting held at the organisation's headquarters in Brussels, on December 3, 2013.
December 3rd, 2013
01:02 PM ET

Uncertainty over security clouds NATO talks on Afghanistan

By Elise Labott

NATO warned it may be forced to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year if President Hamid Karzai doesn't sign a security agreement with the United States.

Reached last month, the pact lays out the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO-led force of some 80,000 troops is scheduled to leave.

Although the agreement was endorsed by the Afghan council of tribal leaders, called the Loya Jirga, Karzai said he won't sign it until after elections in April.

Uncertainty over the agreement is causing mounting anxiety among diplomats here, where Afghanistan is dominating talks among NATO ministers, including Secretary of State John Kerry.
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Meet the American 'badass' leading negotiations with Iran
November 21st, 2013
06:58 PM ET

Meet the American 'badass' leading negotiations with Iran

By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott

Social work and community organizing may seem unlikely career experiences for a lead negotiator to draw on in high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran.

But in an interview before she headed to Geneva this week for the negotiations, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman joked that while her caseload may be more global now, the work is similar.

“Understanding who the person is across the table from you, watching the group dynamics and knowing when to intervene, scoping out situations and seeing where the points of leverage are and how you can reach your objective, are a set of skills I was trained with earlier in my life and have used in any setting I have been in,” Sherman said. “You have to understand what you’ve come to achieve but be very cognizant of all of the other pieces. You need a 360-degree view.”

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When is an apology not an apology?
November 20th, 2013
02:04 PM ET

When is an apology not an apology?

By Elise Labott

In the delicate dance of diplomacy, the word "apology" can be a misstep.

Such is the case with a proposed letter of assurances from the United States to the people of Afghanistan, which is emerging as a way to overcome remaining hurdles to allowing some U.S. troops to remain in that country post-2014.

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November 20th, 2013
08:33 AM ET

Rice: Reports of a U.S. apology to Afghanistan are false

By Chelsea J. Carter and Elise Labott

Reports the United States is on the verge of a security agreement with Afghanistan that includes a formal letter of apology for past mistakes by American troops are completely false, the National Security adviser told CNN on Tuesday.

The statements came amid claims by Afghan officials that the Obama administration offered to write the letter as part of an effort to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan well past the 2014 deadline to withdraw.

"No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan," National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN's "Situation Room."

"Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table."

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First on CNN: U.S. to designate Boko Haram a terror group
A poster displayed along the road shows photograph of Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, declared wanted by the Nigerian military with $320,471 reward for information that could lead to his capture in northeastern Nigeria town of Maiduguri May 1, 2013.
November 12th, 2013
06:42 PM ET

First on CNN: U.S. to designate Boko Haram a terror group

By Elise Labott

The State Department will designate Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, and Ansaru, an offshoot, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, U.S. officials told CNN.

The move enables the United States to freeze assets, impose travel bans on known members and affiliates, and prohibit Americans from offering material support.

The United States says Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2009. Human rights groups put the figure at more than 3,000.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa-Fulani language, has launched a self-described "war on Christians" and seeks to impose a strict version of Sharia law across northeastern Nigeria, if not the entire country.
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John Kerry visits Saudi Arabia to ease fears of rift with ally
November 4th, 2013
06:26 PM ET

John Kerry visits Saudi Arabia to ease fears of rift with ally

By Elise Labott

Call it the Mending Fences tour.

Monday's stop: Saudi Arabia, where Secretary of State John Kerry said he was determined to "make certain the Saudi-U.S. relationship is on track" amid deepening tensions between the United States and its longstanding ally.

Typically private regarding its diplomatic dealings with the United States, the Kingdom has been unusually vocal lately about its unhappiness with American policy.

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