G-7 Summit

G-7 Summit

Notes from different corners of the world.
June 20 1997 3:30 AM

G-7 Summit

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       Just three hours in Denver and I've discovered one thing for sure; the grandly titled "Summit of the Eight," formerly the much more conspiratorial and malevolent-sounding G-7, leaves most Denverites cold. The Denver Post devoted its front page to grumbling about the vastness of the security operation, which effectively deprives any noncredentialed person, i.e. the 2 million residents of the greater Mile High metropolis, from catching a glimpse of a lowly advance operative, let alone a world leader. The city has reportedly coughed up several million dollars for the honor of hosting what many locals wonder might have become just another stop on the long running Boris 'n' Bill and friends international road show. Even Tony Blair, last month's new guy and new face, has met the gang, done the group shots, hugged and mugged with Bill and Jacques, and become a regular member of the traveling cast.
       One possible piece of summit drama turns on whether the president can persuade his fellow leaders to further integrate Russia into the G-7 club, and the access to the international financing and funding that membership brings. I am told that the president would like the final communiqué to formally endorse the notion of a G-8--a solid vote of confidence that Russia's progress on economic reform and the development of free markets is not only continuing but irreversible.
       I got to look inside what is known in the trade as the red zone--the inner meeting chamber that only three individuals from each country, including the leader, have the requisite credentials to enter. One thing is for sure, if 90 percent of summiteering is just showing up, then delegates are probably going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this austere and ghastly piece of airport modernism--less red zone, more red carpet lounge. They'll meet in a featureless circular chamber with whitewashed walls and some navy blue drapes that look like they've been scared up from the State Department's protocol warehouse. All that's missing is one of those hand trucks that sell mechanically extruded soft pretzels for $3 each. This anteroom in a functional, efficient, but utterly characterless newly built library was the replacement for the original notion of holding meetings in Denver's impressive Natural History Museum. Someone probably twigged to the idea that the best photo op in the world might not be a bunch of old or aging guys posing with dinosaurs and fossils.
       The summiteers will sit round a beautiful and original table (designed by a local artist). Its intricate wooden design is supposed to reflect the sun and the mountains at the core of the local lifestyle. What's more intriguing is that questions were asked about the width of Helmut Kohl's chair, but nothing was done about it. Poor Helmut. First he gets caught trying to re-valuate his gold reserves, and now he's going to spend hours trying not to teeter sideways--a victim of high art. The leaders are essentially trapped in the room--condemned to talk to each other for hours on end. They can each only communicate with the outside world through a single phone line and two fax machines. You have to feel for Lionel Jospin who will be frantically trying to fax in his public-sector job plans, and they'll spill out onto the floor with all the pages muddled up, and the crucial section on three months paid vacation for truck drivers will be completely obliterated.
       I sought out the collegiality of my former trenchmeisters, enjoying a last moment of sanity before the big guns arrive. We gossiped about who has what job, the minutiae of advance and press management--the date the Governor's Mansion was built, the location of audio feed "mult" boxes, the color coding for the pool buses, and alas, these days no one seems to be shtupping anyone they shouldn't. While what they are telling me may not be confidences, let alone anything newsworthy, there is no question in my mind that I would be crossing some kind of line if I used any of this stuff as anything other than the deepest background.
       For me, however, this is my passage through the revolving door and I'll soon find out whether my friends will become my sources or whether they will dish me the same pablum that I happily passed out for the last few years.

Graham Cannon was most recently deputy communications director and speech writer for Ambassadors Madeleine Albright and Bill Richardson at the U.S. mission to the United Nations. Before that, he was on the Democratic staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He knows a communiqué when he sees one.