While much of the attention surrounding the upcoming G8 and NATO Summits in Chicago has centered on the mayhem which may unfold on the streets outside the McCormick Place Convention center, officials predicted Tuesday that real progress would be made at the Chicago events, on issues ranging from the draw down of troops in Afghanistan, to world food issues, to the ballistic missile defense of the United States and Europe.
And with representatives of more than 50 countries visiting Chicago, White House officials said it would not be a surprise for some of the world leaders to seek out their own immigrant populations
who have made a new home here in the Midwest.
They repeated assurances from the Emanuel administration and the local hosts that Chicagoans will not be stuck with the enormous tab of staging the event.
Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House’s Senior Director for European Affairs, came to Illinois Tuesday to brief consular officials and the city’s own host committee on what they might expect during the three-day event in May.
Rhodes said Chicago was chosen because it is a "global city, connected to the global economy."
But at the same time, he said the diversity of the city’s population was a big plus because of the ties many of the member nations have to thousands of their own countrymen and women who have made Chicago their home.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Chicago is the president’s hometown.
With scores of dignitaries visiting the city, many moving by motorcade, and the potential for some of those world leaders to strike out to ethnic centers in the suburbs, it promises to be a challenging weekend and easily the largest international event the city has ever hosted.
Rhodes predicted the NATO portion of the weekend would focus primarily on the draw down of troops in Afghanistan, continuing security issues for the alliance including the defense of the U.S. and Europe and strengthening the bonds of the various groups which make up NATO’s alliance.
"Just as we’ve gone into Afghanistan together, we want to wind down together,” said Rhodes.
And while the G8 centers on primarily economic concerns, the annual gathering of the coalition always features a central global issue which is of special concern to the host nation. Great Britain’s consul general to Chicago Robert Chatterton Dickson suggested the decisions made at such conferences can have worldwide impact.
"If you look at Gleneagles, the summit in 2005 when Britain had the chairmanship, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was able to achieve an enormous increase in resources devoted to Africa,” he said. “If you look at the success of Africa over the last seven years, economically, and some of the progress that has been made in diseases and poverty, I think you can trace a lot of that back to the commitments that were made at Gleneagles.
The British Consul General said he expected his nation would bring 50 to 100 visitors to the city, including Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as the Foreign and Defense Secretaries. He emphasized that the NATO portion of the weekend would impact heavily on every nation with a presence in Afghanistan.
"The alliance is at a crucial moment in its history," he said. "It will be drawing down its combat forces in Afghanistan in 2014. So the question is, how do we continue to support the Afghan government in delivering peace and security for its own people."
"And NATO is really important going forward to the defense of all of us. We need to look at how we make the alliance work more effectively and more equitably among its different members," he added.
Great Britain has 10,000 troops in Helmand province, the second biggest troop contributor to the Afghan conflict after the United States.
Rhodes said while a number of U.S. cities vied for the chance to host the twin summits, "Chicago had a story they wanted to tell." And while he said the other cities each offered unique opportunities, "Chicago was the logical choice."
Indeed, Rhodes observed, "Everybody knows Chicago."
And with thousands of foreign press expected for the event, the local administration knows there is the opportunity for either a showcase of the city’s sparkling attributes and ethnic diversity, or the potential for chaotic scenes of protest in the streets.
Dickson predicted Chicago’s best qualities would shine.
"There will be a lot of eyes of the world focused on this city," he said "And I think it will look great."
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