By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
CHICAGO – The NATO summit largely will be devoted to ratifying and reflecting the broad consensus on long-term support for Afghanistan that the alliance and its International Security Assistance Force partners have agreed to, President Barack Obama said here today after a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The leaders – here for NATO’s summit -- spoke with reporters in a small conference room on the first floor of the convention center, seated in armchairs with a small wooden table between them. Their meeting lasted more than an hour.
Obama thanked Karzai and his delegation for their "hard work" on the partnership agreement the two leaders signed during a surprise visit by Obama to the Afghan capital of Kabul early this month.
"During that trip to Afghanistan,” the president said, “we were able to finalize the partnership agreement that reflects a future in which two sovereign nations … are operating as partners to the benefit of our countries' citizens, but also for the benefit of peace and security and stability" in the region.
NATO will continue to support Afghan security forces during the transition as they prepare to take full security responsibility for their country by the end of 2014, he added, noting the “excellent” progress Afghan forces have made so far.
The transition process, Obama added, is "also painting a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, … but our commitment to friendship and partnership with Afghanistan continues."
As the first day of the summit began this morning, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that one of the summit’s three priorities is keeping Afghanistan secure now and in the years to come.
“There will be no rush for the exits,” he said. “We will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged.”
Afghanistan also was on the agenda yesterday at Camp David in Maryland, where Obama hosted the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia for the annual G-8 summit to address major global economic, political, and security challenges.
Along with energy and climate change, food security and nutrition, the leaders discussed Afghanistan’s economic transition and the transitions, collectively known as the Arab Spring, taking place across the Middle East and North Africa.
As part of the G-8’s Camp David Declaration, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a sovereign, peaceful and stable Afghanistan, “with full ownership of its own security, governance and development and free of terrorism, extremist violence, and illicit drug production and trafficking.”
“We will continue to support the transition process with close coordination of our security, political and economic strategies,” the leaders said.
In terms of Afghanistan’s economic transition, the declaration also affirmed that the G-8 countries will:
-- Help to mitigate the economic impact of the transition period and support the development of a sustainable Afghan economy;
-- Support the growth of Afghan civil society and mobilize private sector support by strengthening the enabling environment and expanding business opportunities in key sectors, as well as promoting regional economic cooperation to enhance connectivity; and
-- Continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to meet its obligation to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, including in the rights of women and girls and the freedom to practice religion.
Karzai said he and Obama had a good meeting today in which Afghanistan reaffirmed its commitment to the transition process. The Afghan president said it’s important to complete the transition "so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden" on the international community, the United States and other allies.
Afghanistan is very much "looking forward to an end to this war,” he said, and he spoke of his country’s desire for self-reliance. It’s important, Karzai added, that the allies ensure they help Afghanistan take "steady and strong steps" along that road.
"Both of us recognize that we still have a lot of work to do,” Obama said. “The loss of life continues in Afghanistan. There will be hard days ahead, but we're confident that we're on the right track."