WCBE

Michele Kelemen

Syrian President Bashar Assad is sounding rather confident these days. In his first major address in the past two months, he promised that his troops will reclaim "every inch" of Syrian territory.

"We have no other choice but to be victorious," Assad told Syria's parliament on Tuesday. He also lashed out at rebels, blaming them for the failure of peace talks backed by the United Nations.

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It should be a fairly routine matter for a press freedom organization to get the credentials to attend meetings at the United Nations, an international body whose charter calls for the respect of human rights and basic freedoms.

Instead, the Committee to Protect Journalists found itself in what it calls a "Kafka-esque" process, deferred for years — and on Thursday, blocked by 10 countries, including Russia and China, which CPJ calls the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated himself into the odd position of explaining to Western banks how they can do business in Iran.

As he tries to keep the Iran nuclear agreement on track in the final year of the Obama administration, Kerry has become personally involved in trying to help Iran get economic benefits out of the deal. That's no easy task and one that critics say is letting Iran off the hook.

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Randy Berry has seen dramatic changes during his more than 20 years at the State Department.

When he moved from a post in Nepal to New Zealand years ago, he had to pay for his husband's plane ticket because such spousal benefits were not covered for gay and lesbian couples.

"Those days are gone," Berry says in an interview at his State Department office.

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The Obama administration has shaken up U.S. policy by reaching out to longtime foes including Cuba, Iran and Myanmar. This has spurred a debate about what impact, if any, the U.S. moves have on human rights in these countries.

Some argue that such engagement can encourage authoritarian countries to improve their human rights record, while others say it makes no difference, or may even lead regimes to feel they don't have to worry about punitive measures for rights violations.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Obama is preparing for an historic visit to Cuba this weekend. Just a few months ago, he told Yahoo! News he would only go if the conditions were right.

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's term expires at the end of this year. The election process to find a successor usually plays out behind closed doors. This year, though, the U.N. is trying something new — giving candidates a chance to make their case in public. And, there's a big push by activists to get a woman at the helm.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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When the U.S. and Cuba reopened their embassies this year, American businesses started to look for opportunities on the island. They are quickly learning, though, that it will be a tough slog.

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