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THE INDEX — October 7, 2009

President Barack Obama indicated to congressional leaders that he will not reduce the number of U.S troops in Afghanistan, a strategy that has been linked to Vice President Joe Biden. The decision comes near the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that removed the Taliban from power. In a statement through its website, the Taliban said it poses no threat to the West but will continue fighting occupying foreign forces. “We had and have no plan of harming countries of the world, including those in Europe,” read the Taliban’s statement. “Our goal is the independence of the country and the building of an Islamic state.” The strength of the insurgency has been increasing recently, and according to a new report by Time magazine, the Taliban has been escalating its attacks on NATO convoys. From June to September, more than 145 truck drivers and guards were killed in attacks, and 123 vehicles were destroyed. The Obama administration has exercised patience in forging a new strategy for Afghanistan. It has been widely reported that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who heads the approximately 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, wants approximately 40,000 additional soldiers. Some Democratic aides have hinted that President Obama is looking to add closer to 10,000 troops, but the White House says no decision has been made.

The Czech Republic’s prime minister, Jan Fischer, has reportedly told European Union leaders that he expects his country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the year. Only the Czech Republic and Poland have not agreed to the treaty, which would fundamentally change the way the EU operates. But Czech President Vaclav Klaus is a noted eurosceptic and has not yet agreed to sign the Lisbon Treaty into national law. Thus, while the Czech parliament has approved the treaty, it has been held up in the Czech Constitutional Court. European politicians are pushing both countries to ratify it soon over fears that a new British government could reverse the U.K.’s ratification of the treaty. Conservative Party leader David Cameron is the favorite to win next year's British elections, and has promised a referendum on the treaty if it has not then already been ratified. Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, however, has promised to sign the treaty within the next few days. The Lisbon Treaty would streamline the EU's decision-making process by allowing a great number of votes to be determined by majority rule, rather than unanimity. It would also make the EU’s human rights charter legally binding.

Russia’s foreign minister said the Obama administration’s decision to reconfigure the planned Eastern European anti-ballistic missile shield “creates good conditions for dialogue” and that the current off-shore proposal is less of a security threat than the scrapped project. “Our early estimates show it does not create risks,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, referring to the repositioning of the U.S. shield to protect against short- and medium-range missiles from Iran that more directly threaten Eastern Europe. However, it appears Moscow still wants assurances that the system will not threaten Russian interests, particularly the 3,000-plus strategic warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles that are still pointing toward the U.S. and NATO countries. The comments come as Vice President Joe Biden travels overseas to assure Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic of continued U.S. backing and resolve. Some have taken the U.S. reversal as a sign that President Obama is giving in too easily to the Kremlin's demands. Following the decision on the missile shield, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tentatively said he would supported stricter sanctions against Iran if it continued to defy international demands to stop enriching uranium, a goal long sought by the United States.

[youtube Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussing the U.S. missile shield]

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is in Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad in a sign of warming ties between the two countries. The two-day official visit will be the monarch’s first since he acceded to the throne in 2005. The two countries' relations began souring over the 2003 Iraq War, which Saudi Arabia supported. It worsened over the allegedly Syrian-linked 2005 murder of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, who held Saudi nationality and was close to the monarchy. Riyadh has also been at odds with Damascus over Syria's ties to Iran, which Saudi Arabia considers to be its biggest rival for influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has close ties to the United States, and a political source told Reuters that, “Obama needs help, and Syria has leverage over militant groups opposed to his peace proposals," referring to Hamas and Hezbollah, two militant organizations opposed to Israel and a peace plan.

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