CHICAGO (CBS) — The move to hold the G8 summit at Camp David instead of Chicago in May might have come as a surprise to many, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of the host committee in Chicago, but it was a move that has been in the works for weeks.
President Barack Obama insisted Tuesday that the move was designed to give the G8 summit a more intimate setting, rather than keeping the summit out of Chicago.
“This was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO Summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn’t had any of my counterparts whom I’ve worked with now for three years up to Camp David, I think,” Obama said. “G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty informal way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop.”
The only reason the president talked Tuesday about the surprise decision to move the G8 summit to Camp David was because of a question from Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet.
In announcing the switch on Monday, White House officials said, “To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues.”
But the decision to move the G8 summit out of Chicago left open questions whether expected protests, which could have drawn tens of thousands of protesters from across the country, prompted the move over security concerns.
Sweet sought to find out if security issues played a role in Obama’s decision.
“I wanted to know if, indeed, the thought of all the protesters flooding into the city played a role in his decision,” Sweet said.
Obama said he was confident Chicago could handle security for the summit, but said he wanted a more informal setting at Camp David, and the idea to host the summit there didn’t occur to anyone until plans were already in place for Chicago.
“I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues,” Obama said. “You know, whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza — or Bulls’ championships, we know how to deal with a crowd. It’s a — and I’m sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail — in making sure that everything goes off well.”
Sweet said White House officials have said the move has been in the works for a few weeks. But she also said the re-election of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the possible election of a new president in France might also have played a role.
“From the president’s perspective, then, he wanted to have a calmer setting in Camp David, which is a retreat in the Maryland mountains, to at least deal with the leaders before they moved on to NATO,” Sweet said.
Although protesters who were planning a number of rallies and marches during the G8 and NATO summits have said the G8 switch won’t change their plans, Sweet said it’s probably too soon to tell how the move will affect protests.
“These big international meetings always draw protests. In Washington, we’re pretty used to them, what with having the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund here,” Sweet said. “The protesters have been saying since the news came out yesterday that they’re coming out anyway. Maybe this will reduce what is … the plans of some people who are a little more oriented towards the G8 and not on NATO.”