THE INDEX — March 3, 2009

President Barack Obama offered a deal in a secret letter to Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev that would halt U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia‘s assistance in stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Medvedev denied the media reports Tuesday saying, “we are in correspondence, but no trade-offs have been discussed, I assure you.” The Obama administration said that the missile defense system, which Russia strongly opposes, would not be necessary if Iran did not develop long-range missiles. In the past Russia and Iran have had friendly relations and partnered on several projects.

Hutu rebels have retaken several areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost a week after Rwanda removed its troops from the country, United Nations peacekeeping officials said. According to the UN the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) have recaptured several villages and a former military camp but the Congolese officials disputed the claim, saying the rebels carried out “hit and run” attacks, not an organized campaign. Rwandan forces had entered the DRC in mid-January in a joint operation with the Congolese Army to pursue Hutu leaders, who are wanted for involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

New Zealand will mull sending troops to Afghanistan if President Barack Obama requests assistance, Prime Minister John Key said. No Kiwi combat forces have been in Afghanistan since 2003. But Key said “if you read the tea leaves it is likely” that Obama will ask Australia, NATO and New Zealand for help in securing the country. The Taliban reclaimed strongholds in much of Afghanistan in the last year, increasing violence across the country and destabilizing many years.

Several officials loyal to former Cuban President Fidel Castro have been ousted by Fidel’s brother and current president, Raul Castro. The foreign relations minister Felipe Perez Roque—an anti-U.S., Fidel loyalist—lost his post as did other cabinet-level ministers. Observers said it’s too early to tell whether the shake up will change Cuba’s relationship with the United States. Raul Castro, who ascended to the presidency a year ago, also merged several ministries  to increase efficiency.

Not even Toyota is not immune to the world economic crisis and has asked Japanese leaders for a loan to help its car-financing branch. The international auto industry giant, which expects its first annual loss since 1950, requested $2 billion from Japan Bank for International Co-operation, which the government created in 2008 to help struggling Japanese companies. “Toyota is not in danger. It’s out to get the lowest price for funding that the strength of its credit can get,” said Yasuaki Iwamoto, an Okasan Securities analyst, told Reuters.

Hillary Clinton, on her first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, presented a plan to give Gaza $300 million in aid to rebuild after the three-week conflict with Israel left it ravaged earlier this year. Clinton also expressed the Obama administration’s commitment to a two-state solution, calling it “inescapable.” The merits of such a solution were also detailed by David C. Unger in the Fall 2008 issue of World Policy Journal. The secretary of state said that two top American officials would be dispatched to talk with their Syrian counterparts.

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