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'No timetable' on British Troops in Afghanistan

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Britain's new Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday his government has not set a timetable for withdrawing British troops from Afghanistan.  Giving a major speech on foreign policy, Hague also said his government wants to increase Britain's role in the European Union, build stronger ties with emerging economies and play a key role in the global arena.

"Put simply, the world has changed and if we don't change with it, Britain's role is set to decline with all that that means for our influence in world affairs, for our national security, and for our economy," said Hague.

Hague said Britain's relations with European countries are crucial and have suffered under the past government.  He said Britain's ties with other European countries, as well as emerging economies such as China and India, need to grow.  He also emphasized the importance of Britain's special relationship with the United States.

Steven Fielding is a professor in political history at Britain's University of Nottingham.  He says these points are not far removed from those of the past government.  

"In the short term and the medium term and, to be perfectly honest in the long term, I don't really see there being any significant changes," said Fielding.

Hague spoke to the BBC on Thursday about Britain's role in Afghanistan.  He said he would be "very surprised" if Afghan forces had not taken control of their own security by 2014.  But he said there is no timetable for bringing British troops home.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said last week he wants British troops out by 2015.  Fielding says Mr. Cameron may have been trying to assuage a British public who has become increasingly critical of Britain's presence in Afghanistan.  But Fielding says Britain's Conservative-led coalition is as fully committed to the war as its Labor predecessor.

"When William Hague says what he says about there being no time line, it's a statement of the obvious really," said Fielding.  "This is something that can only be done once the conflict has reached a certain point and in agreement with the United States.

Britain has around 9,000 troops in Afghanistan - the largest international force after the United States.

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