- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

The longest day

The wake-up calls came at 5 a.m. Monday for reporters traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on what was to become one of their longest overseas work days in recent memory.

Our reporter, Nicholas Kralev, woke up feeling feverish but shook it off in time to make the 6 a.m. bus ride from the Marriott Hotel to the airport in Amman, Jordan.

From there, Miss Rice and her entourage — including 11 reporters and a two-man pool television crew — flew to Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak at a hotel known as the Jolie Villas, apparently a Mubarak favorite.

While Miss Rice and the president talked, the reporters cooled their heels in a downstairs meeting room, stood in a smoke-filled hallway with local reporters or ventured outside into the searing Egyptian summer sun.

It was about 9:30 a.m. when Miss Rice emerged accompanied by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a half-hour press conference. Then it was back on the bus to the airport and a quick flight to Cairo.

In the Egyptian capital, the wire agency reporters had a few minutes to file their stories from a press center at a Sheraton Hotel while Miss Rice gave a couple of interviews to Egyptian television reporters.

Then it was off to the American University in Cairo for a speech by Miss Rice that was to be the centerpiece of the day — and in many ways of the whole trip.

“Unusually forceful speech tells Arabs to end the ‘excuses,’” read a subhead on our story the next day. The Washington Post headline read, “Rice criticizes allies in call for democracy.”

It was early afternoon when Miss Rice concluded her address to some 600 students, academics and intellectuals. Then it was back to the Sheraton, where the wire reporters filed fresh leads and the others got some lunch while Miss Rice met with leaders of Egyptian “civil society.”

On to Riyadh

A couple of hours later, the group was on its way back to the airport and wheels up for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the reporters were bused to the InterContinental Hotel and Miss Rice headed for the royal palace for dinner and talks with Crown Prince Abdullah.

That left plenty of time for Mr. Kralev and the other newspaper reporters to write and file their stories of the day, based on Miss Rice’s speech in Cairo. But that didn’t mean they could rest when they finished.

The secretary had been scheduled to return to the hotel with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at 10:30 p.m. for a press conference that, in fact, did not begin until midnight. When it ended a half-hour later, the wire reporters were obliged to update their stories one more time while the other journalists finally made their way to bed after a 20-hour day.

Long days are not unusual when traveling with secretaries of state — who typically pack more events into their days than presidents — but this was unusual by any standard.

Tempers frayed as the day wore on, especially when several reporters encountered communications problems in Riyadh, and at least one department staffer was brought to the verge of tears, Mr. Kralev reports. There was a bit of black humor about whether the Geneva Conventions might have been violated.

The next day, by comparison, was practically a vacation: A leisurely breakfast followed by a 10:30 a.m. departure for the airport and a flight to Brussels for a major international conference on the future of Iraq.

“This was much more hectic than any previous trip” with either Miss Rice or her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, Mr. Kralev said.

“The other thing is that usually we do just one region on a trip, while this time we rushed through the Middle East and then back to Europe for two conferences in Brussels and London.”

We’re going to give him a couple of days off when he gets home.

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

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