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President Obama’s packed weekend

President Obama’s packed weekend

Friday began an action-packed weekend for the Obama administration, kicking off with the G-8 meeting in Camp David and moving on to the NATO summit in Chicago.

In a briefing Thursday on this weekend’s events, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon laid out the U.S. agenda in broad brushstrokes.

"The two summits really do underscore and are an embodiment of American leadership on a range of global challenges and advancing several over-arching U.S. interests: making the international architecture work effectively in a transformational world; second, revitalizing, as I said, our core alliances; and three, really advancing our strategies in the war in Afghanistan in a responsible fashion," he said.

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah presided over the first major event of the weekend Friday morning, the rollout of the "New Partnership to Advance Food and Nutrition Security," a follow-on to the $22 billion food security initiative initiated at the G-8 in 2009. The announcement included setting a goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years; separately, USAID also announced Friday that private industry has already pledged an additional $3 billion toward the effort to improve agricultural sector performance and sustainability in Africa.

Obama went straight from that event to attend his first meeting with the new president of France, François Hollande, at the White House, where the war in Afghanistan and the drive to dissuade Iran from building a nuclear weapon was likely to be discussed. Clinton then hosted a lunch for Hollande and his delegation at Blair House, across the street from the White House.

On Friday evening, seven heads of state and one stand-in, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, will arrive at Camp David in what will be the largest gathering of world leaders in the compound’s history. Each leader will have his or her own cabin, and there’s likely to be a lot of side meetings between them, Donilon predicted.

"The summit is intended to be small and intimate, and the president made a conscious decision to host the G-8 meeting at Camp David for this reason," he said. "This is really a back-to-basics approach, if you will."

There will be a leaders-only dinner Friday night, where the topic will be "regional and political issues," according to Donilon. "There’ll clearly be a discussion about Iran, and we expect to be advancing the international consensus around the P-5+1 approach to addressing the Iran nuclear issue," he said, referring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. He added that North Korea and Burma would probably also come up.

On Saturday morning, the focus turns to the economy and Obama plans to call for more robust U.S. involvement in the fixing of the European economic crisis, Donilon said, although he didn’t specify exactly what that means. Thus far, the administration has generally watched from the sidelines as European leaders have struggled to devise a lasting solution to the fiscal woes of countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain.

"The president looks forward to leading a discussion among the leaders about the imperative of having a comprehensive approach to manage the crisis and get on a sustainable path towards recovery in Europe," Donilon said.

There will be Saturday morning sessions on energy and climate, the Afghan economic situation, and food security, followed by a lunch with four African heads of states — from Benin, Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia — where food security will be discussed. Following that, there will be one more session on the Middle East.

On Saturday evening, Obama travels to Chicago to host the NATO summit, where 61 countries will be represented along with the EU, the United Nations, and the World Bank.

On Sunday, Obama will have his first meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will also be in Chicago, but Obama has no plans to meet with him as of now.

On Sunday evening, the 28 leaders of the NATO countries will have dinner together at Soldier Field. Each leader can bring only one advisor to that meal.

On Monday morning, the first major meeting will focus on Afghanistan and will include the 28 NATO countries as well as 22 other countries that are involved in the Afghanistan effort. Monday afternoon’s session will include all of NATO’s partners.

The focus, Donilon said, will be NATO’s decision to shift in 2013 from "being in the combat lead to stepping back and getting into principally a train-and-advise mode, with the Afghans going into the combat lead all over the country."

Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama’s ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.

"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating — indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.

"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does… And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."

It remains to be seen, however, whether those allies will be willing to stay in Afghanistan much longer. Hollande promised during his campaign to withdraw all French combat troops this year.

Donilon said that Obama understands the importance of campaign promises but also will emphasize the importance of NATO countries keeping their commitments and working with the other alliance members.

"He’ll have to make his national decision with respect to that," Donilon said. "But we would look to allies to make their national decisions in the context of the overall alliance approach, which has us in as ISAF until the end of 2014."