- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

The NATO summit
With all the attention paid to the need for the United States to get its message out into the world through "public diplomacy," it is curious how difficult the U.S. delegation made it for foreign reporters to hear their views at the NATO summit last week.
There was nothing new in this policy. For decades, it has been the practice at G-7, G-8 and other international summits for the U.S. delegation to set itself up at a hotel well removed from the main action and hold its own briefings there for the American reporters.
In Prague last week, the Americans took over the Hilton Hotel so that its diplomats, aides and members of the White House press corps could eat, sleep, attend briefings and file their stories from a specially prepared press room, all under one roof.
Some of the U.S. reporters did just that, never venturing across town to the sprawling gray conference center where the NATO leaders held their plenary sessions and officials from the other 44 countries in attendance held open briefings for all comers.
At The Washington Times, we bridged the gap by having a reporter at each venue. White House bureau chief Bill Sammon, traveling with President Bush, stayed close to the Hilton for the briefings by a "senior administration official," who was sometimes but not always National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Foreign affairs reporter Nicholas Kralev, meanwhile, stayed at the conference center where NATO Secretary-General George Robertson held his news conferences in a large theater and officials from other countries rotated in and out of eight briefing rooms, each large enough for about 50 reporters.
The arrangement, of course, made it hard for most of the White House reporters to know what the United States' NATO partners, including the seven countries invited to join the alliance Thursday, thought about it all. But it also made it hard for the European and Asian reporters in attendance to include the American viewpoint in their stories.
Mr. Kralev reports there was widespread frustration over the problem in the conference center; he says at least one foreign reporter approached him personally to ask whether he had any idea how the reporter could get an American comment for his story.

Tower of Babel
That is not to say it was easy to get a range of viewpoints, even at the conference center. Most of the countries briefed in their home languages, and if that happened to be Portuguese or Estonian, chances are that few outsiders would understand the proceedings.
The printed matter was more useful, says Mr. Kralev, whose trip was partly funded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Most countries issued any policy statements in English as well as their native languages, and all NATO documents were available in the alliance's two official languages: English and French. The value of having two official languages was demonstrated when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma showed up for the Thursday plenary in spite of having his invitation withdrawn because of suspicions that he had violated U.N. sanctions by ordering the sale of an air-defense system to Iraq.
The embarrassment was compounded by the fact that the heads of state were to be seated in alphabetical order, meaning that Mr. Kuchma, representing Ukraine, would be seated next to Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom, and Mr. Bush for the United States.
Organizers neatly sidestepped the problem by alphabetizing the countries using their names in French so that the United States and Britain became Etats-Unis d'Amerique and "Royaume Uni." Mr. Kuchma wound up on the other side of the room seated next to Turkey.
Apart from that and the hurling of a tomato in the direction of Mr. Robertson at his closing news conference by two members of a Russian dissident group the summit came off with very few hitches, both from the diplomatic and the media points of view.
Mr. Kralev says the conference center was well equipped to deal with the 2,000 or more reporters in attendance, with a post office, two ATMs and hundreds of telephones set up to operate with readily available international calling cards.
About 30 desktop computers were also available for reporters who had not brought their own laptops, and free Internet connections were available at all the work stations. The only real failure was that the supply of bottled water ran out after the first day.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djoneswashingtontimes.com.


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