- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

With L. Paul Bremer

For months now, I have been hearing our correspondents complain about the hassles of getting past the security checks to enter the fortified “Green Zone” in central Baghdad. The process is so time-consuming, some of them say, that if they decide to enter the zone for the daily briefing, there is little time left for other reporting.

Compared to that, the hassle of getting past White House security for our editorial board interview on Thursday with L. Paul Bremer, the recently departed chief administrator for Iraq, was really nothing to complain about.

The interview was arranged on very short notice. Dan Senor, Mr. Bremer’s press spokesman, called our office on Wednesday and invited us to meet Mr. Bremer the next day. We immediately began putting together a list of names.

We decided to bring along our two Pentagon reporters and the two foreign desk reporters who had been following the Iraq story most closely. One person each from our Commentary and Editorial pages wanted to join in, and a photographer was assigned.

We asked that the interview be conducted as early in the day as possible to give ourselves more time to write the stories and prepare a transcript if we decided to print one. Mr. Senor obligingly made some arrangements and called back to say we had been moved up from 3 p.m. to 2 p.m.

He asked us to call another phone number at the White House, where we were given an e-mail address and asked to send over names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth for all the members of our party. The meeting, we were told, would take place in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

We should be at the northwest entrance to the White House at 1:40 p.m. to be escorted inside, a White House aide explained. But because of construction on Pennsylvania Avenue, we would have to come in from 15th Street on the northeast side and walk in front of the White House.

No desert boots

We headed over in two cars, with the photographer to meet us at the entrance. The Pentagon reporters and opinion editors had no problems, but when the foreign desk reporters and I arrived at the northeast entrance, a guard told us we could not get to the Old Executive Office building from there and would have to walk to 17th Street.

We were halfway around when a White House aide returned my cell phone call and sent us back to the 15th Street entrance. This time, the guard noticed our press tags and said, “Oh, you’re reporters. This entrance is open to reporters.”

Finally inside the grounds we were reunited, except for the photographer. “Don’t worry, we’re bringing her along,” we were told repeatedly by the aide who ushered us through the gleaming marbled halls of the OEOB.

The interview took place in a high-ceilinged room decorated only with framed architectural drawings and a historic photo that appeared to be from some military academy class. There was a wooden boardroom table with a dozen or so leather-upholstered chairs.

Mr. Bremer strode in dressed in a pin striped suit with checked shirt and loafers — in contrast to the desert boots he wore to his meeting with President Bush the day before. He began with an opening statement outlining what he considered his main accomplishments in Iraq and, when asked, was equally frank about his disappointments.

He took our questions for about an hour, which was barely enough time to touch on everything we wanted to ask him. He unapologetically defended several of his more controversial decisions, such as the failure to try to reconstitute the Iraqi army. The only question he declined to answer on the record concerned the breakdown in the U.S. relationship with Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi.

As for the photographer, she never was brought into the room. We were told on the way out that special arrangements have to be made for photographers and that, in any case, the White House’s own staff photographers normally are used for these kinds of events.

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

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