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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will host the Group of Eight (G-8) summit at his Camp David presidential retreat in the Maryland countryside, the White House said on Monday, instead of Chicago as initially scheduled.

"To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the president is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19," the White House said in a statement.

The G-8, which consists of France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, the United States, Russia and Britain, has attracted violent street protests in the past from groups who view it as a rich club that does not do enough to help the poor.

Some Chicago businesses had also voiced concern that the Occupy Wall Street protest movement could target their city during the G-8, and Chicago police had prepared for heavy duty during the event as well as a NATO summit a few days later.

But the White House played down security concerns as a reason for shifting the event to the somewhat more remote location, which lies about 60 miles north of Washington in the scenic Catoctin Mountains.

"The president felt that Camp David would provide an informal and intimate setting to have a free-flowing discussion with his fellow leaders," said White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor.

The G-8 is viewed by policy exports as providing a more manageable forum than the broader G-20 grouping to discuss thorny security issues, at a time when Obama is seeking to maintain international pressure on Iran's nuclear program.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Obama chief of staff, wished the president and other G-8 leaders well at Camp David and said he looked forward to hosting the NATO summit on May 19-21, which is expected to be dominated by the war in Afghanistan.

Most foreign combat troops are expected to have left Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

(Reporting By Alister Bull, additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)

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