Just in From Tripoli: Shaking Qadhafi's Hand

Posted by Sean McCormack
September 5, 2008
Rice Arrives to Tripoli

About the Author: Sean McCormack serves as Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. "We need color," said the journalists on the plane on our way to Tripoli, so I was geared up for color-gathering mode for the Secretary's meeting with Col. Qadhafi, or "The Leader" if you are a Libyan government official. We've all heard the stories of visiting officials being kept waiting hours for a meeting, only to end up in a different city than where they had started. I imagined having to scribble furiously in order to take in the sensory overload of meeting in the famous tent, complete with the even more famous white plastic lawn chairs. I was prepared for the interlocutor who interspersed his conversation with long, uncomfortable silences and who had left previous guests wondering if he were talking to them or the ceiling fan. I got none of that. I was faced with a color deficit.

We walked into the meeting room that was filled with journalists of all stripe -- print, photographers, cameramen, sound guys. I was the last of our delegation to enter the room, or so I thought, and stood on tiptoes to see over the wall of journalists for a glimpse of the man. He stood at the other end of the room in a white robe and black fez-like cap. I walked to one side of the room to stand with other members of the delegation, who were doing the same thing that I was: looking for Secretary Rice. To my surprise though, she had held for a moment in her car, so she was coming in behind the rest of us.

Next came one of the moments where you say to yourself, "how did I get here?" After Col. Qadhafi greeted the Secretary, an anxious protocol person was working to find the rest of the American delegation, which was stuck on the other side of the room behind about 80 journalists. I then found myself the first to work through the throng of bodies and before I knew it, shaking Qadhafi's hand. I traveled the span of about 20 years in those few seconds -- remembering the images of the ‘80's and ‘90's and a violent period in U.S.-Libyan relations.

For those seeking color, the room provided none. It was a modest, wood-paneled meeting room lined by chairs and couches for host and visiting delegations. I've been to meetings in rooms like this one a hundred times. After about twenty minutes of discussion between Col. Qadhafi and Secretary Rice, the meeting moved to a one-on-one between the two (along with interpreters and note-takers). Contrary to all those news reports, Qadhafi engaged in a direct, free flowing conversation with the Secretary.

That's all for now, the laptop battery is low. More on the trip from Tunisia, our next stop.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
September 8, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Sean,

This is what I would call "Transformational diplomacy".

P.S. I've been getting DOS press briefings in my email inbox for years, and I just wanted to say that I think Mr. Wood is a fine addition to your team.

I had a thought if you wouldn't mind considering it.

DoS has it's "ask the ambassador" , "Dipnote" , and these are in this citizen's opinion, on the cutting edge of public participation in foreign affairs.

Often I find myself wishing I has a press pass because on occasion I'm left feeling like essential questions are not asked by the press.

Is it possible to take a few questions from the public, say through a submission process on "Dipnote" that at the end of a press briefing, the spokesman answers a few write in questions? This way I think the press gets a fair idea what is on the public's mind directly, and I think that would serve everyone's interest.

Thanks.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
September 6, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

Sleeping with the Khaddafi -- One more evidence that America and the West drive to bring freedom and Democracy to the world was nothing but a farce with an intended purpose of installing submissive dictators who will surrender his treasury and people to slavery under the NOW. Don't celebrate yet, if you read your bibles you should know that Libya by name is mentioned as another front line.

Jason
|
United States
September 6, 2008

Jason in U.S.A. writes:

My question is.......

What happened to the blog about foreign intervention? There was like 23 comments on it all related to Georgia.

Did they remove it for some reason?

Luke F.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 6, 2008

DipNote Blogger Luke Forgerson writes:

@ Jason in U.S.A.:

Here is Assistant Secretary Fried's posting on Georgia. You can read past DipNote entries in the View All Post by Topic section of the blog.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
September 7, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Jason,

Dipnote's home page is like a book, you can flip the pages to recent or current topics by clicking on "next" or the number of the page at the bottom of the screen.

Topics of the week are also archived as indicated on the home page by the month they appeared.

Now if you really want to do some digging into American diplomatic history, get some basic facts on the history of nations, bilateral relations with the US, and other details then go to:

http://www.state.gov/

Dept of State's main website.

Jason, my dad gave me a little advice about things political long ago. He said, "Son, never believe anything you hear, only half of what you read but believe what you see and get your eyes checked often."

I found it to be sound advice. How do you actually know what you think you "know" unless you do the research for yourself?

Good luck with it.

Heath K.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 8, 2008

DipNote Blogger Heath Kern Gibson writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico,

We are starting to think you were sitting in a very private and long meeting we had last Tuesday. You're about to get your chance to ask the essential questions. We just need a little more time. An announcement will be forthcoming.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
September 9, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Heath Kern Gibson,

Facinating! I trust my "virtual" participation was helpful?....(chuckle).

Seriously though, I very much appreciate the opportunity, and thanks for the feedback.

Best regards.

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