Reporting Jay Levine
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UPDATED 05/19/12 5:27 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is at the center of the NATO Summit, and he says it will strengthen Chicago’s position as a world-class city.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine spoke with Rasmussen at McCormick Place Saturday. Rasmussen spoke to CBS 2 in Brussels back in March, when a Chicago delegation visited to try to drum up interest in the summit.
He talked extensively on that occasion about his frequent visits to Chicago, on his way to and from visits to see his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Springfield.
Rasmussen also said in Brussels that he planned to take a run along the lakefront next time he came to Chicago, as he usually does when he comes to town. On Saturday morning, he made good on that plan.
“Mission accomplished, yes. This morning, I took a run along Lake Michigan, and it is indeed great to run with the lake on the one side, and the very impressive Chicago skyline on the other side, and it was just about sunrise, so I enjoyed it very much,” Rasmussen said.
If Rasmussen could talk to the people of Chicago awaiting the summit, what would he say about why they should be concerned about the summit itself instead of the inconvenience that it’s causing?
“First of all, let me, in advance, apologize for any inconvenience because of security and all that. We know that is a challenge. But having said that, I think the people of Chicago should realize that this is a neat opportunity for Chicago to showcase the dynamism and the strength of this world class city,” Rasmussen said. “I said, this is the largest NATO Summit in the history of our alliance – more than 60 leaders from across the world will attend this summit, and of course, it will put Chicago on the world map, and that public relations is priceless.”
Chicago is taking advantage of the opportunity, with the help of perfect weather from Mother Nature, and a host committee that is determined to treat all the visiting delegations – and even the journalists who are along on the trip, as well as the world leaders they are covering.
Meanwhile, there were more arrivals of flag-flying foreign leaders’ planes at O’Hare International Airport Saturday afternoon.
One carried Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan. Another carried the ruling sheik of the United Arab Emirates.
But most, like Romanian President Traian Basescu, are bit players in the drama that will unfold at McCormick Place on Sunday, when the superpowers now wrapping up their G8 Summit at Camp David arrive to finalize a timetable for the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama talked about that issue earlier Saturday while at the G-8 Summit in Camp David.
“Obviously, in Chicago during the NATO meeting, during the NATO meeting, we’ll spend more time talking about security matters. But here, we want to make sure we recognize the need for Afghanistan to sustain a development agenda,” Obama said.
Rasmussen also met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel Saturday morning.
The Chicago Accord is expected to come out of the summit. Does Rasmussen expect it will be as he anticipated coming in?
“The goal, the strategy, the timetable would remain unchanged,” he said.
But newly-elected French President François Hollande, a socialist, told President Barack Obama he would stick to his commitment to French voters to pull his country’s troops from Afghanistan within a year, rather than 2014 as NATO plans. That could complicate things.
Could non-combat French troops be an option?
“Of course, we will now discuss that with President Hollande,” Rasmussen said.
Many other NATO member nations have also lost their appetite, to say nothing of their budgets, for keeping their troops in Afghanistan. Obama and Rasmussen will have their hands full in trying to get everyone to stick to the original timetable.