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Obama Stresses Afghan Stability and Exit Plan at NATO Summit

May 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
At the NATO Summit Monday, President Obama emphasized the importance of a stable Afghanistan, and of phasing out most foreign forces by the 2014 deadline. Judy Woodruff reports.
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GWEN IFILL: NATO’s exit plan from Afghanistan moves a bit closer to reality.

Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The world leaders who gathered in Chicago this morning, discussing the future of NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan, were welcomed by the Windy City’s most prominent citizen.

President Obama renewed his pledge to draw down international forces known as ISAF while bolstering the Afghan military and police.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014 when the ISAF combat mission will end.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president thanked the Central Asian nations and Russia for assistance in ensuring supply routes into Afghanistan, but he pointedly omitted any mention of Pakistan.

The Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, had been invited to the summit at the last minute, as the U.S. tried to negotiate the reopening of vital supply routes from Pakistan. They have been closed since last fall, when an American attack mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops along the border.

Mr. Obama met with Zardari today on the summit’s sidelines, but a new accord remained elusive.

BARACK OBAMA: We’re actually making diligent progress on it. I don’t want to paper over real challenges there. There’s no doubt there have been tensions between ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months. I think they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president had welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the summit on Sunday.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan (through translator): The partnership that we signed a few weeks ago in Kabul has turned a new page in our relations. And the new page is a page of two sovereign countries working together for the mutual interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two men signed that long-term strategic agreement just three weeks ago in Kabul.

The Chicago summit was supposed to ensure financial assistance for the Afghan police and army. The U.S., the Afghans and non-NATO countries planned to put up a combined $2.8 billion per year. They sought another $1.3 billion from the allies, but that fund-raising effort came up well short of its goal.

It was also unclear how many NATO nations would stay in Afghanistan and for how long. On Sunday, the new French president, Francois Hollande, reaffirmed plans to extract his nation’s 3,400 combat troops one year earlier than planned.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, French president (through translator): It was a pledge I made to the French people. I explained it to President Obama and I told my colleagues that it wasn’t a negotiable issue, that it was a matter of French sovereignty, and each one of them understood it well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whether a residual French training force stays in Afghanistan remained to be seen. For its part, the Taliban seized on the French announcement, saying on its Web site: “We call upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of American officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan.”

And in the streets of Chicago, demonstrators rallied for a third day to denounce the war and demand withdrawal. An outbreak of violence yesterday resulted in dozens of arrests. But for the most part, the protests were peaceful. And they came as a clear majority of Americans now say in public opinion polls the war is no longer worth fighting.