WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House abruptly announced Monday that it had scuttled plans to hold the upcoming G-8 economic summit in Chicago, and would instead host world leaders at the presidential retreat at Camp David near Washington.
It was an unusual late location change for a large and highly scripted international summit, planned for May 18-19.
White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor said that Camp David, the rustic retreat in the mountains of Maryland, was a setting that will allow for more intimate discussions among the G-8 leaders. He said security and the possibility of protests were not factors in the decision, noting that Obama would still host the NATO summit in his hometown of Chicago from May 20-21.
The White House announced plans last summer to hold both summits back-to-back in Chicago, giving the president a high-profile opportunity to tout his foreign policy and diplomatic credentials on his home turf in an election year.
Making the White House's sudden announcement all the more curious is the fact that Obama rarely spends time at this presidential retreat. Unlike many of his predecessors, Obama has never hosted a world leader at Camp David.
Vietor said the discussions to switch the site of the G-8 summit began a few weeks ago.
The world's eight largest economies are represented in the G-8 and hosting duties for the annual summit are rotated among the member countries. The summits have become a target for large, and sometimes violent, protests in recent years, making security costs have been a concern for host cities.
Chicago officials began planning for the summits last summer, with city officials predicting it would give the city a chance to shine internationally, while the police rank-and-file worrying whether they would be prepared to handle the thousands of protesters expected to converge downtown.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Obama's senior director for European affairs, said recently that the president was confident his hometown could put on a “great show'' and that its police department was up to the task of providing security.
The city's host committee had estimated it could cost $40 million to $65 million to stage the events, including the costs for security.
Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, as well as the European Union, are expected to attend this year's gathering.