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NATO to Decide Afghanistan Strategy

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are working Saturday on a strategy for winding down the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and ensuring stability afterward. The final day of the NATO summit in Lisbon will also include discussions aimed at improving the alliance's relations with Russia.  

U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai shook hands as the Afghan president joined the 28 NATO leaders to discuss his country's future.

NATO is working on details of its plan to start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan next year, and put the country's security completely in the Afghan government's hands by the end of 2014.

As the meeting began, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance is united with Afghanistan on the need to make the transition.

"The direction, starting today is clear, toward Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership.  That is a vision President Karzai has set out, it is a vision we share, and we will make it a reality, starting early next year," he said.

But Rasmussen cautioned that NATO will maintain a military presence in the country beyond 2014, mostly to train Afghan security forces and provide humanitarian aid.

"If the enemies of Afghanistan have the idea that they can just wait it out until we leave, they have the wrong idea.  We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job," he said.

NATO's relations with Russia are another of Saturday's main items on the summit agenda.  The alliance hopes to continue improving ties with its former Cold War adversary, and is inviting Russia to join in a new missile defense system for Europe.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Obama were not scheduled to meet one-on-one, as previously reported.  But the Russian leader did plan to take part in the NATO-Russia Council, a committee set up after Russia's 2008 conflict with Georgia for the purpose of easing tensions and improving relations.

NATO and Russia were expected to agree to expand the alliance's supply routes for Afghanistan through Russia, among other items.

The New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, signed by the two presidents earlier this year, is also being discussed Saturday.  Mr. Obama has been campaigning intensely for U.S. Senate approval of the pact this year, against long odds.  

Some Senate Republicans want more upgrades to the U.S. nuclear arsenal and say there is not enough time remaining in the current Congress to strike a deal.  If the treaty is not ratified this year, the process will start from the beginning next year, in a new Congress with more Republicans.

Before returning to Washington, President Obama meets with European Union leaders, with economic issues at the forefront.

Some European officials have been unhappy with U.S. government spending to stimulate the economy while many European governments have been drastically cutting their budgets to reduce deficits.

There have also been complaints from Europe that Mr. Obama has focused too much attention on Asia recently, and not enough on U.S. ties with Europe.

Recently, the Obama administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Europe relationship, especially on economic matters.

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