Monday, March 29, 2010

Ottawa (G8) March 29 2010

I've never been to Ottawa before and I don't think I can say I've been to Ottawa now, even though that's where I'm sitting. Doesn't look too spectacular in the photo, which is partly because its a crap photo taken by a cellular phone and partly because it is not too spectacular to begin with.

Clinton is here for one night for the annual meeting of the G8 foreign ministers. On the agenda is the predictable list of items, topped by Iran but also North Korea, Yemen, non-proliferation, etc etc. We got up early this morning in DC and had a choppy flight through fog up to Ottawa, which looks pretty much as one might expect. We are staying at the Chateau Laurier, the big Victorian pile next to the parliament buildings which I guess is (or was) Ottawa's go-to hotel. Its a big dingy now..or perhaps just dark. The hallways are wide and somberly lit..shades of "The Shining".

I sat in on an TV interview that a Canadian channel did with Clinton today. She is so good at this -- putting the interviewer at ease, good laugh. She was able to run through her talking points pretty much unimpeded. It is interesting to see how her staff closely monitors the TV feed monitors while the interview is going on..they want to see how the boss is coming across. She's a pro so they usually don't have much to worry about.

The headline tonight is a slightly more optimistic tone from Clinton (and others) on China's willingness to consider Iran sanctions. I'm not sure (and I don't think they are quite sure) if this is a real switch in position, or just another nuance of Beijing's very dragged out diplomacy on the whole thing. But it made for a bit of a story and that's enough, I guess.

Actually the good story of the day was Clinton slapping down a Canadian initiative to get a new "Arctic 5" group up and running. They had called together the main countries along the Arctic to discuss how things might pan out in light of global shipping lanes, fights over oil and mineral exploitation etc. But there is already an Arctic Council that deals with this, and clearly Washington felt we did not need another ad hoc group butting in. She essentially told them that in her opening remarks, and the Canadians quickly had to backtrack. Sort of pathetic..they had all kinds of glossy brochures printed up to talk about the "Arctic 5"..but now one gets the strong feeling it isn't going to happen. Witness the heft of the Superpower.

The only other tidbit I gleaned today was that Japan's foreign minister has among his hobbies a collection of porcelain frog figurines. God knows why the Japanese Foreign Ministry would put that in his official biography, but there it is....perhaps emblematic of the useless factoids that fill the air at meetings like this.

Tomorrow it is more G8 here and then to New York to prepare for the Haiti Donor's Conference on Wednesday. I've swung two days at the Waldorf...everyone tells me not to get too excited, but will be interesting to see the insides of that place (doubtless much like this one..outdated, dim and kind of spooky)