U.S. President Barack Obama, second from left, attends the NATO summit May 20 in Chicago with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, second from right, and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, right. (Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)
The opening day of the NATO summit in Chicago started with messages of confidence and solidarity about the future of Afghanistan.
After meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more than an hour the morning of May 20, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was “confident that we are on the right track, and what this NATO summit reflects is that the world is behind the strategy that we’ve laid out.”
With the right plan in place, it is now time to implement it effectively, Obama said.
During their short joint press conference, Karzai said that with the signing of the strategic partnership agreement at the beginning of the month, the two countries turned a new page in their relationship.
“And the new page is a page of two sovereign countries working together for the mutual interests — peace and security and in all other areas of concentration,” Karzai said.
The strategic partnership agreement, which Obama signed with Karzai May 1, lays out the U.S. commitment to the country after American combat troops leave.
One of the goals of the NATO summit is to firm up the contributions that other NATO members will make to the Afghan mission beyond 2014.
“We will make clear our commitment to a long-term partnership with the Afghan people beyond 2014, so that Afghanistan never again harbors terrorists that can attack us at home and so that Afghans can look forward to a better future in a stable region,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in his official opening remarks.
The optimistic messages were expected.
Afghanistan should be a “good news story for these summits,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and now senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said May 16 in Washington.
For evidence of progress, leaders can point to the diminished capabilities of al-Qaida, the growing size of the Afghan security forces, and the effect the surge of NATO troops has had on the Taliban’s momentum, Riedel said.
While officials are stressing NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan, they are also gathered in Chicago to discuss their collective withdrawal from the country.
One of the goals of the summit is to get NATO partners to help the United States with the $4 billion a year price tag to train and sustain the Afghan security forces.
“There will be a lot of promises, but many fewer checks in the mail,” Reidel predicted.
According to news reports from AFP, countries with troops deployed in Afghanistan have pledged $1 billion to the cause.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on the new French President Francois Hollande, who promised voters that he’d pull out French troops by the end of the year.
It is expected that France will contribute resources other than combat troops to the effort if it does decide to withdraw before 2014.
At the NATO summit, Obama is hosting 61 nations and several international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank and the EU.
It is only the third time since NATO’s founding in 1949 that the United States will host a NATO summit, and it’s the first time it’s been hosted in a city other than Washington.
Obama hopes the summit is a boon for his “hometown” of Chicago, where his former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is mayor.