White House sees Afghan-Pakistan talk as chief NATO Summit victory
BY ABDON M. PALLASCH AND LYNN SWEET Staff Reporters May 21, 2012 7:00PM
President Barack Obama speaks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, center, and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at the McCormick Place Convention Center during the NATO Summit in Chicago, Illinois, May 21,2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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Updated: July 2, 2012 8:56AM
Here is the image the White House sought to convey from the just-concluded NATO Summit in Chicago: President Barack Obama talking with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Ali Zardari.
Even though Afghan forces are only prepared now to start taking charge of 75 percent of the country. And even though Zardari is not fully ready to open the supply lines into Afghanistan as Obama and Karzai would like, the photo of the hastily-arranged chat released by the White House Monday shows they are talking.
Among the many declarations adopted by the 28 NATO member countries and their partners meeting in Chicago Monday was a commitment to remove combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014 but leave support staff there to aid development.
Obama started his final day at the summit Monday seated at a massive round table at Chicago’s McCormick Place with other world leaders, welcoming Karzai and the leaders of neighbor countries deemed vital to Afghanistan’s success.
“I want to welcome the presence of President Karzai, as well as officials from central Asia and Russia — nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for … supplies,” Obama said.
Obama met for an hour Sunday with Karzai. Karzai has fully signed on to NATO pulling its combat troops out by 2014 for better or worse. Ten years is long enough, Obama emphasized in a news conference Monday.
“We’ve been there 10 years,” Obama said. “No matter how much good we’re doing and how outstanding our troops and our civilians and diplomats are doing on the ground, 10 years, in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain, not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.”
Pakistan could help that transition, and Obama and other NATO leaders have been frustrated with the ostensible U.S. ally’s reluctance to confront Taliban and al-Qaida elements on its soil.
“My discussion with President Zardari was very brief as we were walking into the summit,” Obama said. “I emphasized to him what we’ve emphasized publicly as well as privately: We think Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. It is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is Democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable; that we share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan but also within Pakistan.”
Obama, who toured Pakistan as a college student and pronounces it correctly as “PAHK’-i-stahn,” is the president who ordered a raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden without telling Pakistani leaders. He emphasized that progress is being made.
“We need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably risen after 10 years of our military presence in that region,” Obama said. President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through We didn’t anticipate that the supply-line issue was going to be resolved by this summit. We knew that before we arrived in Chicago. But we’re actually making diligent progress on it.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta echoed that sentiment at the North Chicago VA Hospital Monday: “You know, we still have a ways to go, but I think the good news is that we are negotiating and that we are making some progress.”
Obama’s Republican rival for president Mitt Romney criticized him in a letter to the Chicago Tribune Sunday for inadequate leadership of NATO because Obama has not leaned hard enough on other NATO countries to pay their fair share — leaving the U.S. to fund 75 percent of NATO operations.
The Chicago Summit was not intended to lock in funds for post-2014 Afghanistan; still, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said progress was made in Chicago towards the goal of NATO partners chipping in towards the estimated $4 billion — with the U.S. to pay most of the tab.