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Obama’s Speech Closes NATO Summit, Sets Agenda for Afghanistan and Pakistan

President Barack Obama thanked Chicago for hosting the NATO Summit, explained the exit strategy for Afghanistan and answered questions about international and domestic policy at a closing press conference at the NATO Summit Monday afternoon.

President Obama expressed pride in his city and praised the summit as a “great showcase” for Chicago. He thanked Chicagoans for their patience.

Obama apologized for the traffic caused by the summit but said it was a byproduct of being a world-class city. He praised Chicagoans for being “gracious and hospitable” and Mayor Emanuel, whom he said performed “wonderfully” under stress.

Obama said the visiting foreign leaders “loved” the city, and he encouraged them to shop and boost his hometown’s economy. He said wife Michelle took leaders’ spouses on a tour of the South Side and the Art Institute.

“I was just talking to David Cameron and I think he’s going to sneak in some sightseeing before he heads home,” he said.

Official photographic portrait of US President...US President Barack Obama  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The president said leaders received models of the Bean and U.S. footballs.

“Many did not know what to do with [those],” he said.

The president said the protesters were anticipated and that they were exercising the American freedom of speech and assembly.

Obama said he was just “15 minutes” from his house in Hyde Park. He said he wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed, but couldn’t due to the traffic it would have caused. So he stayed in a hotel, “which contributes to the Chicago economy,” Obama said.

The president expressed joy that his beloved White Sox won the Crosstown Classic the weekend he returned home.

“Chicago performed magnificently,” he said.

Obama also said the leaders reached a consensus on a milestone for the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, establishing the Afghan military will take lead of combat operations in the country in mid-2013. In turn, NATO forces will shift to support roles.

“We’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan,” Obama said, “a plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends.”

Obama said transitioning control to the Afghans allows American military personnel to come home, and he noted that 33,000 U.S. troops are slated to come home before the end of the summer.

Obama expressed cautious confidence in the future of Afghanistan at the NATO Summit, but said regardless, it was time for U.S. troops to leave.

“The large footprint that we have in Afghanistan over time can be counter-productive. We’ve been there 10 years, and I think 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,” he said.

President Obama also met, although briefly, with the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

With the recent closings of routes to bring NATO aid from Pakistan into Afghanistan, tensions between the United States and Pakistan have risen. This was a response to the death of Pakistani military in U.S. strike.

President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through,” President Obama said. “ 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.

The president also spoke about economy and the election.

“This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they’re working hard and they’re acting responsibly, that they’re able to live out the American Dream,” President Obama said.

The president left Chicago after his press conference.

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