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Updated 05/20/12 – 4:00 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – After months of hype, and a week of protests throughout Chicago, the NATO Summit officially got underway Sunday afternoon at McCormick Place.
The real business began Sunday morning, when President Obama met face to face with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
After their session, the two reaffirmed their commitment to draw troops out of the county over the next two years.
Karzai said it’s important to complete “so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden” on the international community, the U.S. and other allies.
The president said the Afghan people “desperately want peace and security.”
“We recognize the hardship that the Afghan people have been through,” Obama said. “Both of us recognize that we still have a lot of work to do. The loss of life continues in Afghanistan. There will be hard days ahead, but we’re confident that we’re on the right track.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Grzanich reports
Later, world leaders gathered in a meeting room beneath iconic views of the president’s hometown to begin the business at hand. Not surprisingly, Obama’s pride in Chicago was evident.
He noted that some visitors had taken a boat tour to learn about the city’s architecture. Obama also mentioned that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen enjoyed a lakefront jog.
Rasmussen said it wasn’t only the view he admired.
“I would like to thank the people of this great city for making us all feel so welcome,” he said.
Saturday night, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrived at O’Hare International Airport, just hours after concluding the G8 Summit at camp David, Maryland.
They then helicoptered to Solider Field, and took a motorcade to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, where they’re staying during the summit.
Obama’s talks with Karzai will be key to the NATO Summit, because the issue before NATO leaders is how fast to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, without having that nation collapse behind them.
The president addressed that goal in brief remarks Saturday night at Camp David.
“Tomorrow, we begin our NATO summit in my hometown of Chicago, where we’ll discuss our plans to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
Rasmussen also strongly endorsed NATO’s continued engagement in Afghanistan, rather than an immediate withdrawal that protesters have called for.
“There will be no rush for the exits. We will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan, and see it through to a successful end. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged,” he said Sunday morning.
After Obama’s morning meeting with Karzai, the NATO opening session begins at 2:15 p.m. at McCormick Place. It is schedule to run for three hours. The president has signed an agreement with Karzai to pull out troops by the end of 2014. The summit will include a discussion of details of that withdrawal.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was doing his part Sunday morning to strengthen the NATO alliance, as he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron at City Hall.
Britain is perhaps America’s strongest ally, and a staunch backer of America’s and NATO’s policies in Afghanistan. It’s also one of America’s biggest trading partners, as the mayor undoubtedly knows.
WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Grzanich reports, during the summit, NATO officials will be discussing the future of the alliance, among other agenda items.
“In Lisbon, we decided that NATO should be an alliance ready for 21st century threats and challenges as well as opportunities. In Chicago, we are going to make sure we are on track,” said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Representative to NATO.
According to Daalder, the future of NATO is going to depend on how much the European nations support it financially.
“We need to make sure that we have the capability in the Alliance and among our forces to enable us to meet any challenge that might be out there in this unpredictable world and make sure that, even at a time of less resources, we remain capable of responding to those threats,” Daalder said.
Afghanistan will also be a major topic at the summit.
“This summit will be a success if we get a credible NATO commitment for assisting Afghanistan and maintaining its security through the transition to an Afghan lead in 2014 and beyond,” said CBS News Military Analyst Mike Lyons, a retired U.S. Army Major, who served under a NATO Command.
So what should NATO’s immediate goals be?
“They’re going to have to for example get non-government organizations involved and have more results and commitment from them. Not everything is going to be military-related. In fact that should be that last piece of the process that’s taking place,” said Lyons.
And from a military perspective?
“Smart defense and that go with a deterrence system, a missile defense system, some kind of training and some kind of aspect of keeping all these countries on the same line from a competency perspective,” he said.
There’s a full schedule of evening activates as well. The first lady will host an event at the Art Institute of Chicago for NATO spouses. She’ll also take NATO spouses on a tour of a South Side youth center Sunday morning.
There’s also a NATO dinner at the Field Museum, to honor troops serving in Afghanistan.
The president will also host a dinner at Soldier Field, for NATO’s heads of state.