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Afghan timeline will be addressed at NATO summit

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) – A White House official said Tuesday that alliance members attending an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago will be reminded that they’ve committed to pulling combat forces out of Afghanistan in 2014, despite a recent suggestion from France that the timeline be accelerated.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week that he would ask NATO to end its combat mission a year early in 2013, an announcement that came after four French soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier.

But Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said President Barack Obama’s administration remains committed to the agreed-upon 2014 timeline for turning over combat operations to local forces in Afghanistan.

“That’s the agreement of record, that’s the framework of record,” Rhodes said. “Within that context, we will need allies to remain committed to that goal.”

NATO’s top official said this week that the alliance will adhere to the timeline discussed at the NATO summit in Lisbon in 2010, and Rhodes said the NATO summit in Chicago will be a chance to underline the administration’s determination to stick to that timeline.

“Just as we went into Afghanistan together we want to wind down our presence in Afghanistan together in proportion to one another,” he said. “Chicago will be a chance for everybody to come back together, make sure we’re aligned in our planning for our drawdowns and our transition.”

Not that the administration will wait that long to make that point.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “will be very clear about our plans to remain on the Lisbon timeline,” said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for European affairs, when asked about a February meeting of defense ministers.

Rhodes and Sherwood-Randall were in Chicago to talk to reporters about everything from security to parking to the price tag for when the city hosts the back-to-back NATO and G-8 summits in May. It was the latest press briefing organized by city officials, who have been trumpeting the benefits that will come to the city.

Rhodes said President Barack Obama is confident that the city can put on a “great show” and that its police department was up to the task of providing security for an event that in other cities has attracted thousands of protesters. He also said that Chicago has a proven record of hosting major events.

And while there have been concerns in the city about whether the city will be left paying millions of dollars for events that the host committee estimated could cost $40 million to $65 million, Rhodes said he didn’t think that would happen.

“We are confident that between the money that’s being raised by the host committee and the type of reimbursements that are made by the federal government that the summit can go forward without a burden on the Chicago taxpayer,” he said.

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