Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

Republican presidential candidates this week — with the exception of Ron Paul — appeared to be trying to outdo each other in saying how tough they would be in dealing with Iran. Speaking before a pro-Israel group, they said President Obama has been weak — "feckless," in Mitt Romney's words.

Obama, meanwhile, was not impressed. He said he'd heard a lot of "bluster" and "big talk" about Iran, "but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years."

The White House meeting next Monday between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be the most critical encounter for the two men since they took office.

Netanyahu is expected to argue that time is running out on efforts to discourage Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama may say the Israelis can count on U.S. support, but that they should give sanctions and diplomacy time to work before turning to military action.

American officials have long complained about countries that systematically hack into U.S. computer networks to steal valuable data, but until recently they did not name names.

In the last few months, that has changed. China is now officially one of the cyber bad guys and probably the worst.

Iran is moving toward a nuclear capability but its intentions are unclear. Al-Qaida is weakened but remains dangerous. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are a determined adversary, but it may make sense to negotiate with them.

These were the highlights of the annual assessment of threats to U.S. security, delivered Tuesday on Capitol Hill by the nation's intelligence agencies.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, was also able list some accomplishments, beginning with the big triumph — tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.

The Europeans are in the midst of their most serious economic crisis in 60 years, and now they're hearing it's not just their own fate they have to consider: The whole global economy hangs in the balance.

The International Monetary Fund last week warned that if Europe's problems get any worse, it could push the entire world back into recession.

European Union leaders, meeting in Brussels on Monday, are said to be close to resolving some of their most difficult issues — and they'd better be.

In an effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program through economic pain, both the U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions that should make it harder for Iran to sell its oil. But the global oil business is unpredictable, and sanctions are no guarantee.

The battle over Iran's nuclear program escalated Monday as the European Union announced an embargo on importing oil from Iran.

For years, Europe has been reluctant to join the United States in imposing tough sanctions on Iran. The United States years ago stopped buying Iranian oil, while European nations including France, Spain, Italy, and Greece kept up their purchases. European countries right now buy about 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran.

Angelina Jolie was just 16 when the war in Bosnia began, and she acknowledges now that she paid little heed to it at the time. But as her awareness of international issues later took shape, her attention was drawn back to that Balkan conflict.

"I wanted to understand," she says. "I was so young, and I felt that this was my generation; how do I not know more?" Now, that war is the subject of In the Land of Blood and Honey, her debut film as a writer and director.

Tensions with Iran these days are as high as they've been in years, and managing them will be one of the top challenges facing the Obama administration this year. With Iran threatening to block U.S. ships from entering the Persian Gulf, and the United States vowing not to back down, the stage seems to be set for war. And yet, what's happening with Iran right now may be more of an economic confrontation than a military standoff.

Let Iran off the hook or undermine the global economy? Slap sanctions on an Iranian energy company or provide Europe with an alternative to Russian gas? Washington policymaking is especially difficult when the aims conflict, and few cases illustrate that principle more clearly than the challenge of finding a way to punish Iran without hurting someone else.

The U.S. Congress has approved legislation that targets the Central Bank of Iran and is intended to make it more difficult for that country to sell its oil abroad.

But the latest sanctions could backfire. Reduced oil supplies on the world market could mean higher prices, and therefore Iran could actually make more money from its oil even if it sells fewer barrels.

Iran has been dealing with economic sanctions for years, but the country could soon face measures tougher than anything it has encountered before: Legislation moving through the U.S. Congress would target the central bank of Iran, with the likely effect of severely limiting Iran's oil exports.

Such sanctions would almost certainly damage Iran's economy. The challenge would be to make sure other countries are not hurt as well, given the fragile state of the global economy and the tight global oil market.

Barely two weeks ago, it appeared that European leaders had a package to contain their debt crisis. Greece's problems would be managed, with private bondholders taking a hit on their investments and a new bailout to help the government meet its obligations. A European rescue fund would protect Italy and Spain from any risk spreading from Greece.

Markets soared. And then, this week, they crashed.