WASHINGTON--A day after the White House made a surprise announcement to switch the May G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David, President Barack Obama said a specific reason for the change was he wanted to use his retreat--for the first time--to huddle with foreign leaders.
Obama made his remarks in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times at his first press conference of the year. He said the G-8 relocation did not come because of security concerns. "I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues," Obama said, noting that the much larger NATO summit--with some 50 countries expected to attend-- will go on as scheduled in his hometown.
Regarding security, Obama said Mayor Rahm Emanuel--his former chief of staff-- will be on top of "making sure that everything goes off well.
The notion of using Camp David only came up after Chicago was booked--at the urging of Emanuel--for the back-to-back summits, Obama said.
"I have to say 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, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a -- in a pretty intimate way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop," Obama said.
Obama also cited what may be a contributory factor of shifting the G-8 to his presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains: the election Monday of Vladimir Putin as the new president of Russia.
"It'll give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president," Obama said.
Below, a transcript of the exchange:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Really. (Laughter.) Ah ha ha. (Laughter.) Lynn, since you've been hollering, and you're -- you're from my hometown -- (laughter) -- make it a good one.
LYNN SWEET: My question is about the switch of the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. A reason given from the White House is that now you wanted a more intimate summit.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
LYNN SWEET: People in Chicago would like to know, what do you know now that you did not know when you booked hometown Chicago for the G-8 that led to the switch? And what role did security threats possibly play in the decision?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, Lynn, we're still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders.
We've got this NATO summit. Typically what's happened is is that we try to attach the G-8 summit to the NATO summit, so that the leaders in the G-8 summit don't have to travel twice to whatever location. So last year in France we combined a G-8 with a NATO summit. We'll do so again.
I have to say 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, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a -- in a pretty intimate way.
And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop. I think, you know, the weather should be good that time of year. It'll give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president. And from there, we will then fly to Chicago. I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues.
You know, whether it's Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza -- (laughter) -- 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 -- (soft laughter) -- in making sure that everything goes off well.
FOOTNOTE: The U.S. Embassy in London sent out this Tweet: "In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the #G8 and #NATO Summits. What should top the summit agendas?"