By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he was confident in Chicago’s ability to host a gathering of world leaders and played down the notion that security concerns had anything to do with the decision to move the May G-8 meeting from Chicago to Camp David.
In response to a question during a press briefing in Washington, Obama noted that the NATO summit scheduled for the same weekend will still be held in Chicago, bringing him and other world leaders to the city.
“I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues,” said Obama, whose 2008 presidential election night victory party was held in Grant Park with a massive crowd in attendance. “We know how to deal with a crowd and I’m sure your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure everything goes off well.”
He reiterated the story line from the White House and Chicago City Hall after word broke Monday of the schedule change, saying leaders from the Group of Eight nations felt more comfortable in a more intimate setting.
The G-8 “tends to be a more informal setting where we talk about a wide range of issues in an intimate way,” Obama said. “People would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop.”
Obama said it would also give him time to spend with newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin, before bringing world leaders to his hometown for the May 20-21 NATO gathering where the future of Afghanistan and missile defense talks are expected to be on the agenda.
In Chicago, the organizers of the main demonstration planned for what was to be the first day of the G-8 summit has filed a new petition with the city seeking to move the demonstration back a day to focus on the NATO gathering of world leaders.
The group, Chicagoans Against NATO/G8, filed a petition Tuesday morning to move a march from May 19 to May 20, the first day of the NATO summit.
That group’s leader, Andy Thayer, said the threat of demonstrations played a role in the Obama administration pulling G-8 out of Chicago. Thayer and other demonstrators said the protest movement will shift its focus to the meetings of NATO, which he called the “military arm of G-8.”