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Chicago NATO Summit focuses on Afghanistan

President Barack Obamcenter talks about American football European world leaders during NATO family phoSoldier Field NATO Summit Chicago Sunday May

President Barack Obama, center, talks about American football to European world leaders during the NATO family photo at Soldier Field at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:55PM

The Chicago NATO Summit yielded some progress Sunday on reopening NATO truck routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan while the U.S., NATO and new French President Francois Hollande decided not to rock the alliance over France pulling combat troops from Afghanistan this year.

President Barack Obama played hometown host in a scripted summit at the highly fortified McCormick Place, where the real action was at sideline talks on Afghanistan-related issues. The NATO delegates were insulated from any exposure to the melee taking place blocks away between protesters and police.

First lady Michelle Obama entertained spouses — and in the case of Hollande, his partner, Valerie Trierweiler — at a South Side youth center while Obama took his counterparts to dinner at Soldier Field.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton threw dinner parties for their counterparts at the Cultural Center and Adler Planetarium, while other NATO delegates were invited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a Navy Pier reception.

Hollande — sworn into office last week after beating now former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who was close to Obama, having known him since he was an Illinois senator) — campaigned on a platform of pulling French combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Obama — and NATO — want to end the war by 2014, when the Afghans would be in charge of their own security. Obama has made a pledge to help Afghanistan for a decade after that.

Wanting smooth relations with Hollande (and vice-versa), NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen predicted at a morning briefing that the NATO allies will stick with the plan to pull out combat troops by 2014.

“There will be no rush for the exits,” Rasmussen said.

In essence, the diplomatic dance went this way: The Obama administration and Rasmussen were not critical of Hollande. Hollande told French reporters that he still wants France to be part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan — helping in an unspecified non-combat role.

Hollande gave NATO something: He did not pursue objections to a new NATO ballistic missile system based in Europe; French reporters were told he got assurances from NATO that French companies would get some of that business.

U.S. NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder said at a briefing that Hollande, by having France “remain a presence” with ISAF, fulfilled the NATO decision of “in together, out together” in Afghanistan.

Obama had two one-on-one meetings: with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Rasmussen.

The leaders of the 28 NATO member countries — in their first session — sat around a massive round table with 66 seats.

“Over the next two days, we’ll meet — first as allies and then with President Karzai and our international partners — to chart the next phase of the transition in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “Just as we’ve sacrificed together for our common security, we will stand together, united, in our determination to complete this mission.”

Another issue is Pakistan. Relations have been frosty since November, when a NATO attack killed about 24 Pakistan soldiers, prompting the country to close supply routes to Afghanistan.

With some potential of breaking a deadlock, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to the Summit, meeting Sunday with Secretary of State Clinton.

The U.S. and NATO, however, are balking at Zardari’s proposal to charge about $5,000 per truck for passage — when previously the cost was about $250 per vehicle.

A senior State Department official said “they discussed the importance of reopening the NATO supply lines; of taking joint action against the extremists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region, including al-Qaida and the (Taliban affiliated) Haqqani Network; of supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and efforts toward reconciliation, and of concluding negotiations for a U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty.”

NATO’s 25th summit was the third hosted by the U.S. and the first outside of Washington.

“Chicago has always been a place where Europeans and North Americans have come together,” Rasmussen said. “And now we have come together to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between us.”

Chicago’s weather offered thunder loud enough to penetrate McCormick Place with noise and cause a scamble over the traditional “family photo.”

So the leaders delayed their photo op until dusk, just before dinner amid the old colonnades at Soldier Field.

The summit concludes Monday.

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