Behind the Scenes at the Annapolis Conference

Posted by Nancy Brinker
November 27, 2007

This blog entry is written byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State. Ambassador Brinker provides a behind the scenes look into the Annapolis Conferencetaking place on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.Tuesday Afternoon:

We’re now in Bancroft Hall and President Bush and Abbas have spoken. All three leaders called for peace. President Bush came to set the stage and urge the process, which he did with great energy and determination.

Both President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert publicly stated to each other and the members of the delegations how they need to have peace and are prepared to lead. All eyes are on them, as they will have to confront the tough issues and make the difficult decisions necessary to reach true accord. They will meet again in Paris to continue the hard work.

I sat to the side of the stage and had a clear view of all three leaders, all very charismatic and direct. There has been too much bloodshed and too many lives lost. The coexistence of these two states is essential.

We had a few logistical mishaps, but we are busy attempting to address any and all concerns. Perfection, though we strive for it in Protocol, is not possible. When as many agencies as are here are working an event, there are bound to be some issues. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that there were very few problems and the Protocol staff did a really fine job. I'm proud to serve with all of them!

Tuesday Morning:

I’m at the U.S. Naval Academy waiting for the Annapolis Conference to begin. The Naval Academy campus is very impressive; you can feel the great historical significance and presence of the place.

President Bush and Secretary Rice just arrived and Admiral Fowler, the Superintendent of the Academy, and his gracious wife greeted them. We are now waiting on the arrival of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. Each will arrive separately and the delegations will follow.

Gladys Boluda, our highly capable Assistant Chief of Protocol, and I are ensconced in the cloakroom of the Buchanan House which is the official residence of Admiral Fowler of the Naval Academy.

It has been the official residence of the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy since 1909. The quarters were named after Franklin Buchanan and were designed by architect Ernest Flagg who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Flagg was also responsible for the architecture of Bancroft Hall where the larger meetings will be held and the President will deliver his speech.

The Buchanan residence has 34 rooms and is over 16,000 ft of living space. This historic house has been the welcoming residence for more guests than any other official government residence except the White House. Each Superintendent of the Naval Academy since has lived here, all making improvements! There is a striking portrait of Buchanan in the foyer that was painted after an earlier work of him by Rembrandt Peale. Buchanan commanded the flagship USS Susquehanna during Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous Japan expedition. When Maryland remained with the north during the Civil War, he tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his resignation from the U.S. Navy and then joined the Confederate States Navy in August of 1864. He was defeated in the battle of Mobile Bay. Like General Robert E. Lee, he fought against many of the very men he had educated in the art or warfare.

One can only imagine the discussions that have occurred in this house and I am wondering what Buchanan would have thought about the meeting taking place today.

The leaders arrived and are now upstairs meeting. Thankfully, the day is bright, with no rain and less wind than expected. Though all are energized, difficult outstanding issues remain. Hopefully the discussions today will set a tone and build a foundation for the future. We will now proceed to the actual conference site, Bancroft Hall.

Monday Night:

Tonight was another historic evening. We spent a few quiet moments in the John Quincy Adams rooms before joining the dinner in the Ben Franklin Room. I used this time to think about how extremely important it was for us to host this meeting. Tonight as our distinguished guests toured the Diplomatic Reception rooms and viewed the beautiful 18th and 19th century American furniture, paintings, silver, and porcelain, it made me so proud (as always) to be an American. Struggles of our history flood my mind for a minute and filled me with hope that tomorrow would be the beginning of the end for conflict in the Middle East. I know all of us together can do it...

Then we entered the Benjamin Franklin Room for dinner. Amy Little, Deputy Chief of Protocol for Ceremonials and Outreach, and her team did a really wonderful job and the arrangements were perfect. The tables were set in a very understated but elegant way. When the President and Secretary Rice entered, there was a palpable good feeling in the room. The President spoke briefly and encouraged all to work together. Then he circulated around the room, greeting guests. Secretary Rice did the same.

Monday Morning/Afternoon:

Today is the beginning of the pre-meetings for the Annapolis Conference. I just finished greeting Israeli Prime Minister Olmert who is now meeting with President Bush. There are more attendees than we expected at the conference. Tonight there will be a dinner with over 175 people at the State Department. We’re busy seating people. This is somewhat challenging given that the delegations are fluid as people move in and out. Then we discovered at the last moment that new guests should be included. My staff and I have been preparing for this meeting intensely since we first learned about it.

So far, there are 51 countries and counting. Optimism reigns and there is real energy. As we move between meetings, I see Treasury Secertary Hank Paulsen with Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernecke and they exchange a quick greeting with our Israeli guests.

In an hour, we will greet President Abbas. President Abbas, along with Prime Minister Fayyad and his delegation, will have an afternoon meeting with President Bush.

He has now arrived and we exchanged greetings. I met and visited with Prime Minister Fayyad in New York at the United Nations General Assembly meeting a couple months ago. My counterpart, the Chief of Protocol Abdal Karim Ewaida, and I exchange stories of trying to plan for the movements of leaders and anticipating their next moves! He has a lovely wife and baby, who he doesn’t see often enough due to working long hours and extensive travel. We wait together for the meetings to conclude so we can go back to State Department to begin preparing for the dinner tonight when President Bush will come speak with guests. Before dinner, however, we have three more visitors who will meet with the Secretary. Soon afterward, dinner guests start arriving.



Maryland, USA
November 28, 2007

Mike in Maryland writes:

I enjoy reading the blog; it's great to have this insight and perspective into the State Department. I have a suggestion that I think might boost readership.

Update more often. You had a wonderful opportunity and did a good job with the Annapolis Conference. But you could have turned one long entry into multiple entries over a couple of days. As a blog reader, I like checking back and seeing new entries to read. And since I read your blog in my RSS reader, the conference blog postings showed up as only one entry, instead of several that they truly were.

Keep up the postings.

California, USA
November 28, 2007

Sybil in California writes:

Dear Nancy,

I really like this site and read it all the time. We always read the events from the internet/magazines/papers, but your article made me feel like I was there.

Thank you for reaching out!

Jenna O.
New York, USA
November 28, 2007

Jenna in New York writes:

Dear Ambassador Brinker,

I was really touched by your blog and have really enjoyed reading it. You write like a person and not a robot which is what I envision most areas of our government to be. You are a very good representative for our country and while I don't agree with a lot of things I see happening these days at least I feel like you are doing a good job making people feel welcome in our country. I believe what you are doing is diplomacy at its best is making an impact.

P.S. I looked at your bio and did not realize that you also founded Race for the Cure. Now that is a BIG achievement to be proud of!!! My family has run every year in Central Park in my honor. You are a very special person that has touched many people.

Alabama, USA
November 29, 2007

Kevin in Alabama writes:

I am very pleased that the State Department developed this blog! It is wonderful to see the "behind the scenes" work of the State Department.

Thank you for bringing this great communication tool not only to Americans but to the entire world.

New Jersey, USA
December 5, 2007

Elizabeth in New Jersey writes:

Interesting perspective of the meeting. One feels like a silent observer or a fly on the wall.


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