In the Loop: Love and money at the E.U. summit


President Obama’s motorcade drives through the village of Noordwijk, The Netherlands, on Tuesday. (Remko De Waal/EPA)

President Obama and his entourage, which Britain’s Guardian newspaper estimated at 900 people (a figure the White House strongly disputes but won’t correct, citing security reasons), arrived in Brussels on Tuesday for the European Union summit as the Belgian capital braced for the significant expense of hosting him.

Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur told the Guardian his city will spend $10.4 million to ensure Obama’s security during the president’s 24-hour visit. Hosting an E.U. summit typically costs the city about 500,000 euros ($690,000), the newspaper reports. “But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20,” Mayeur said.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Belgium is providing an additional 350 security personnel to protect Obama as he travels between sites. Nine U.S. helicopters and 30 armored cars will be used for an Obama visit to a World War I cemetery.

Obama’s security needs are not unique. When his predecessor, George W. Bush, traveled abroad, he didn’t pack light. In November 2003, just months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush brought 700 people with him on a visit to London, which the Guardian at the time described as “worthy of a travelling medieval monarch.” The British government expected to spend well over $8 million to protect Bush over his four-day London stay.

Not only do these trips require host cities to shell out considerable capital, they also come at a hefty price to American taxpayers. The Washington Post reported in June 2013 that the Obama family trip to sub-Saharan Africa was projected to cost U.S. taxpayers somewhere between $60 million and $100 million.

BFF with the E.U.

Loop fans may recall a decidedly undiplomatic comment early last month by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland. Nuland made her off color remark while discussing Ukraine’s political and economic crisis (before Russia moved into Crimea) and the European Union’s efforts, which she found, well, wanting.

“F--- the E.U.,” she said on a private telephone conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt — a conversation that mysteriously popped up on YouTube and on a Russian-language Web site. The quality of the recording was highly professional, a solid indication that it was done by someone adept at these sorts of things, someone like the Russians.

Nuland promptly apologized. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was furious. But João Vale de Almeida, the E.U.’s ambassador to Washington, graciously tweeted a lighthearted picture in keeping with the pre-Valentine season. It said “L*** the EU.”

Nuland tweeted in response: “Happy valentine wishes from AssistSec Nuland too!”

Now, we’ve learned, Nuland had a bunch of buttons made up that say “L*** the EU.” She’s since been handing them out to diplomats and visitors — even gave us a couple. In fact, it seems they are much sought after by European officials gathering this week in the Netherlands and in Belgium, where she served as ambassador to NATO during the Bush administration.

Goes to show you, there’s no miscue that can’t be worked out.

It could be colder

Sen. Angus King’s jaunt to the Arctic last weekend was not one of those plum overseas trips that lawmakers are sometimes known to take in the name of research. Traveling to the middle of the Arctic Ocean, where temperatures rarely break zero, is the polar opposite of cushy.

King (I-Maine) left Friday for an up-and-back trip to the U.S. Navy ice camp constructed in the middle of the frozen ocean to participate in something called the “ice exercise.” According to the Navy’s official blog, their last “ice camp” was in 2011, where campers blogged about the experience of testing submarines in Arctic conditions.

One of the Navy’s blogs answered questions from children whose fathers were part of the mission:

Q: Another asks a related question about how cold it is in the submarine now and whether their father is able to stay warm.

A: Don’t worry. Your father is nice and warm. The submarine is at the same temperature as in any other ocean — boats normally keep their thermostat at about 72 degrees and can overcome any outside or seawater temperature.

Others on the trip included Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.); Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations; Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; and Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall. The trip, Pearce’s office said, allowed the group to check out “the ongoing Arctic training of our submarine fleet onboard the USS New Mexico.”

King’s office said he was particularly interested in how the melting Arctic ice can create more waterways for global shipping.

So the lawmakers didn’t dine at fancy Parisian restaurants, but they apparently ate well — or at least a lot. The Navy blog reports they had to eat 5,000 calories a day to offset calories burned from the intense cold. The food, described as “fantastic,” is frequently Middle Eastern or Thai.

In an e-mail to the Loop, King described the trip as “amazing” but noted that it’s an “extreme” assignment.

“The trip wasn’t without its tense moments,” King said. “Breaking the surface was a difficult maneuver and, in fact, there was an eruption of applause as we broke through.”

Still, King was probably more equipped than one person from a warmer state — whom he declined to identify. As they prepared to leave, a travel companion teased King for showing up in jeans and a fleece jacket: “Look at the senator from Maine. I wear more to bed than he wears to the Arctic!”

For this group, Tuesday’s spring snowstorm no doubt felt downright balmy.

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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