President Barack Obama scrapped plans to host the Group of Eight summit in his adopted hometown of Chicago and made a surprise announcement to hold the event at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside of Washington.
The change of venue made so close to the scheduled summit date was unusual for an event that brings together leaders of the world’s industrial nations and is typically planned as long as a year in advance. The White House announced plans for the summit in Chicago last June.
Rachel Bronson, vice president for studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, one of two partners on the Chicago Host Committee, said the group only learned of the change after the White House made the announcement.
“We’re disappointed,” she said in an interview. “There was a lot of concern that it was coming here because of protests and now there’s concern that it’s not coming here.”
A meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that originally was planned in tandem with the G-8 summit still will be held in Chicago on May 20-21, according to a White House statement. The G-8 leaders will meet the two days before at Camp David, which is in an isolated area of the Catoctin Mountains about 62 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Washington.
“This change is something the president started contemplating a couple of weeks ago in conversations with aides,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman.
Hayden said it is too early to confirm travel plans for leaders who will be going from Camp David to Chicago for the NATO summit.
Lori Healey, the host committee’s executive director, played down the move in a statement. She did not mention the G-8 by name and said: “We are honored to be the first major American city to host a NATO summit and look forward to showcasing Chicago to the world.”
Jennifer Martinez, press secretary for the host committee, said the committee learned of the switch from the mayor’s office earlier yesterday. She said the move “has minimal impact on our program” since so many of its events are focused on the NATO summit.
Martinez said members of the host committee and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau are still planning to travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels later this month to showcase Chicago food and culture.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff until October 2010 when he left to run for the office, released a statement yesterday wishing Obama “and the other leaders well at the G-8 meeting at Camp David.” Emanuel said that Chicago looks “forward to hosting the NATO summit.”
Emanuel said “hosting the NATO summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21.”
Hayden said Obama speaks regularly with Emanuel “and consulted with him on his decision, as well.”
The administration doesn’t expect significant agreements to emerge from the G-8 summit, according to an administration official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the planning. The meetings will be focused on discussions on issues including the global economy, the European debt crisis, nuclear non- proliferation and Iran, the official said.
The May gathering will be the first trip to the U.S. for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin since he won the country’s presidential election on March 4.
After building a warm relationship with Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, Obama needs to invest time and energy into building bridges with Putin, said Andrew Kuchins, senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“It’s important for Obama to establish some personal relationship and personal chemistry with Vladimir Putin,” said Kuchins, who said Obama got a “cool reception” when he met with Putin during a 2009 Moscow visit.
The atmosphere at Camp David, located in wooded hills and away from an urban area, is akin to that of some past summits, including the 2004 meeting at Sea Island, Georgia, and the 2010 summit in Muskoka, a vacation resort in Ontario.
“The president felt that Camp David would provide an informal and intimate setting to have a free-flowing discussion with his fellow leaders,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement yesterday.
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