By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, defending the switch in location of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit to Camp David from his home city of Chicago, said on Tuesday that the scenic retreat promised fine weather and a more intimate setting for world leaders to talk.
The May 18-19 gathering had initially been scheduled for Chicago, which hosts a NATO summit for leaders a few days later, and the switch to rural Maryland was claimed as a victory by activists who vow to flood the Midwest city with protesters.
"G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way, and the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop," Obama told reporters at the White House.
The G-8 consists of Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Italy, Germany and the United States.
The rustic, wooded retreat about 60 miles north of Washington is on a military base in the Catoctin Mountain Park and boasts a fine trout stream enjoyed by fly-fishing presidents in the past.
Obama has not made nearly as much use of Camp David as his predecessor George W. Bush, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and nodded to that fact in a press conference dominated by fears of an Israeli attack on Iran and the November U.S. election.
"Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David ... I think that the weather should be good that time of year," he said.
Bush, in contrast, hosted foreign leaders at Camp David on a number of occasions.
Obama will likely use the G-8, viewed by policy experts as a top forum to build consensus among world powers on delicate issues like security and the global economy, to keep up international pressure over Iran's nuclear program.
He is also trying to build a united front to stop violence by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his government's opponents. That effort was recently thwarted at the United Nations by Russia and China, who voted against a Security Council resolution condemning Assad's bloody crackdown.
"It will give me a chance to spend time with Mr Putin, the new Russian president," Obama said, in his only reference to the Sunday election in Moscow that returned Putin, currently prime minister, to the office that he held from 2000 to 2008.
Activists, whose Occupy Wall Street protests across the country last year focused attention on public anger at the wealthy, which the G-8 embodies for many demonstrators, claimed credit for forcing the relocation to Camp David. But Obama played down the threat of street protests to the summit.
"I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues. Whether it's Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza or Bull's championships, we know how to deal with a crowd," he said, referring to the city's major food and music festivals and its basketball team, of which Obama is a big fan.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Anthony Boadle)