The schedule from the U.S. Department of State foreign press center looked intriguing:
Thursday, 11/10: 3:45 p.m. Briefing ON BACKGROUND and OFF CAMERA with U.S. State Department Official. A readout of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bilateral meetings in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Thinking it could be an availability with Hillary, Civil Beat felt it had to be there.
‘The Bus Is Leaving’
Media are instructed to gather at the entrance of the “IMC” — the International Media Center at the Hawaii Convention Center.
It’s a large room oddly lit with low-watt lamps. Soft rock is piped through the PA system: Christopher Cross is caught between the moon and New York City; Joni Mitchell says you are a mean old daddy but she likes you.
There are about two dozen reporters, including several from Hawaii, waiting to be called. And then the call comes.
“The bus is leaving,” one of the reporters tells me. “Hope this is interesting. They made us arrive at the East-West Center at 8:30 for Clinton’s talk today, even though she didn’t speak until 11 a.m. Gawd. I tried to tell my boss APEC is boring, but he didn’t believe me.”
Think we’re going to see Hillary now?
“No,” he says.
The media pack is escorted up the Convention Center’s main escalator and shuffled into a room identified as “U.S. State Department Room 1.” An official says we can turn on recording devices for notes but not name the person who is to debrief us.
“Please say ‘a U.S. senior official,” we’re instructed. “And please help yourself to bottled water while you wait.”
The media sit down at a long table and chairs along the walls. Some are American, some Japanese, some Russian. Most wear suits.
One guy who seems rather suave reports for Agence France-Presse, according to his badge. He wears an untucked linen shirt and soft gray slacks and has curly black hair that reaches his collar. He is far and away the most interesting person in the room.
Bilaterals and Interlocutors
It’s a long wait. We receive several apologies. Two reporters eventually get up and leave.
Finally, the U.S. Senior Official arrives, escorted by Victoria “Tori” Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman. Tori explains that Hillary and the U.S. Senior Official have been in bilateral meetings with the ministers of China, Japan and Australia.
The U.S. Senior Official says, “I apologize. These meetings tend to back up. Good to see so many of you again.”
The U.S. Senior Official speaks for about 20 minutes. He talks about a Manila Declaration and flooding in Thailand and “bilaterals” and interlocutors from China and the Six Pillars and the Six Party Talks and a bunch of other stuff.
The main point the U.S. Senior Official is making is that America is pivoting from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia and the Pacific. Also, there’s been too much focus on the “A” and not the “P” in the Asia and the Pacific.
The U.S. Senior Official says things like “the Secretary underscored” and “the Secretary made very clear,” meaning Hillary and how she held court in all those bilaterals with the interlocutors.
My attention begins to drift. My eyes focus on the APEC logo, the circular design plastered, it seems, everywhere, including on the walls of U.S. State Department Room 1.
As a stare closer, it seems as if the 21 elements symbolizing the 21 member economies in the circle are beginning to rotate. Each element now resembles a broken shard of glass threatening a blue globe in the middle.
“I’m sorry to go on so long,” says the U.S. Senior Official, snapping me out of my daze.
It’s Q&A time. The first question is from Reuters, something to do with China and whether they are happy with the American pivot back to the A&P.
The U.S. Senior Official is prepared. “”Our relationship with the Chinese is complex,” he says. Blah, blah, blah.
One of the Russians, a burly fellow wearing a black aloha shirt with a floral print, asks the next question. He says he noticed that Hillary didn’t say anything about Russia in her talk at the East-West Center.
The U.S. Senior Official responds by saying, “The Secretary did not mention every country today … Yes, Russia is important … We will hold a bilateral in Vladivostok.”
The Russian presses: “When? Before the next APEC?”
No, sooner, assures the U.S. Senior Official.
The AFP guy asks a question. The U.S. Senior Official recognizes him and says, “It’s good to see you again, Shaun.”
The AFP guy says, “It’s good to see you too, thank you,” and then asks a question about Tibetan monks immolating themselves to protest Chinese policy.
“Our relationship with the Chinese is complex,” replies the U.S. Senior Official. Blah, blah, blah.
“Last question,” says Tori.
Something about Burma and sanctions.
We pile out of U.S. State Department Room 1, back down the escalator and into the IMC. I begin to file my story.
After about 20 minutes, I take a walk around the IMC. I see the Russian reporter, filing his story.
No doubt Vladimir Putin will awake tomorrow in Moscow to learn that a bilateral has been scheduled in Vladivostok between Russian and American interlocutors.
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