Secretary of State Clinton has just arrived at the elegant Egmont Palace in downtown Brussels, coming straight from the airport and the Middle East portion of her trip. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht greeted her warmly as she entered the building from the cobblestone courtyard of the Palace for an informal dinner with her counterparts from EU and NATO nations, plus the Secretary-General of NATO and senior EU officials Solana and Ferrero-Waldner. The reality of being involved in a small part of a visit for what I imagine must be one of the busiest offices – and for one of the busiest people – in the world is that all of those involved must be willing to adapt to unexpected changes and events beyond their control, and then adapt – quickly! It’s one part routine, one part diligence, with a touch of flexibility and a dash of exhilaration.
Being the ‘site officer’ means that over the last few days I have been coordinating closely with the Secretary’s Advance staff and the Government of Belgium’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) about the movements of the Secretary (and her staff) throughout this event at the Egmont. There could be worse places to be a site officer, believe me – I would be crazy not to appreciate the Palace, one of the showcases of the MFA, with stunningly beautiful 17th century Belgian (of course!) tapestries throughout, an exquisite red, black and grey marble staircase leading upstairs to the meeting rooms, which in themselves are also more than attractive – the Hall of Mirrors, where a pre-dinner reception occurred – can only be described as resplendent.
While my responsibilities required only that I and others visit the Palace a few times before tonight, at each visit I still quietly marvel at its large and small beauties – whether a remarkable tapestry or a small portrait or a piece of furniture. The Kingdom of Belgium acquired the Palace in the 1960’s from the city of Brussels, which in turn had had the property since 1918; the Palace’s roots hail back to the Egmont family in the 16th century. The Belgians spent years renovating the building, and as a result they have a diplomatic center that matches the marvelous hospitality that they put on display this evening. These are not your average digs, to say the least.
Tonight’s dinner event – which has stretched well beyond the scheduled two hours and fifteen minutes – is the beginning of several busy – no, make that extremely busy – days here in the capital of Europe for the Secretary. In addition to serving as host nation for NATO and the EU, Belgium is a major trading and investment partner of the United States, has forces in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon and Africa, cooperates with us on a number of important issues, and will have the EU Presidency for the second half of 2010 – a valuable interlocutor.
So tonight’s event is done, with the Secretary and the other Foreign Ministers and officials walking one last time through the Hall of Mirrors down the marble stairs to the vehicles below. A few minutes later it’s good-bye to the Palace for me, too. I’m sure other colleagues will be blogging about the Secretary’s upcoming NATO and EU events occurring nearby over the next two days, where she will have many important discussions, much as she did tonight. But they won’t have the Egmont!