No Day at the Beach
By Glenn Kessler
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, March 2 -- Welcome to the reporters' prison camp.
The grandly titled "International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza" is being held at this Red Sea resort town of beautiful beaches, soaring mountains and sparkling blue water. But we are stuck in a dreary, claustrophobic and unbelievably smoky room.
Such is the grand life of diplomatic correspondence. There are few things less glamorous than a bunch of European, Arab and Asian hacks working in stuffy rooms, puffing on no-filter cigarettes and chatting loudly.
Egypt is sponsoring this conference, with brings together 75 countries and organizations, some represented by heads of states. For security reasons, for much of the day the reporters were penned up in English, Arabic and French language rooms, where we could only watch the proceedings on big-screen plasma televisions. There was little space and even fewer outlets, meaning many reporters had to sit on the floor praying their batteries would not run out.
The conference is one of these diplomatic confabs in which high-sounding words are spoken, often to little effect. Listening to speeches, one would think the long-running Israeli-Palestinian issue was relatively easy to solve. The real work of these conferences in done in the small rooms, where the various foreign ministers and other officials hold meetings and discuss the vexing issues before them without as much public posturing.
Eventually, hours after arrival, the security lightened up a bit and reporters were able to grab various delegates, gathering scraps of information and trying to gain some context for what was said.
One U.S. official, for instance, said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a bilateral meeting with her counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, said she was doubtful Iran would respond to the administration's efforts at outreach.
Clinton made her remarks after Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said he was worried the administration would cut a deal with Iran without properly consulting with Persian Gulf allies.
"We will be consulting with regional leaders and listening," the official quoted Clinton as saying. "She said our eyes are wide open with regard to Iran." Then she apparently added that it was doubtful the effort would yield much.
I think Clinton has expressed such sentiments before, but of course it probably had much greater impact for Nahyan to hear it himself.
We get to go through another one of these international meetings when Clinton attends a NATO ministerial in Brussels on Thursday. But NATO, thankfully, has banned all smoking inside. Sitting 10 hours in a smoky room is punishment enough for one week.
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