Red carpets to roll for NATO dignitaries

Last-minute preparations made for visitors' comfort

April 23, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The city is ready to give NATO leaders the red-carpet treatment. Literally. While event planners prepared yesterday for the arrival of world powers for the NATO summit, dozens of plastic-wrapped burgundy carpets sat in an auditorium, awaiting unfurling.

Inside the foyer of the Mellon Auditorium, where international dignitaries from 42 countries will convene today to mark the 50th anniversary of NATO, the familiar fixtures of officialdom will set the tone.

Yesterday, the auditorium -- the place where the NATO treaty was signed in 1949 -- was dressed up with many of those stately accouterments.

"We're ready," said German Aldas, a Virginia restoration expert who was hired to revive the color in the gold-and-silver gilt gate outside the auditorium.

Around him, organizers went over the cues for the military mu- sic while workers assembled the red-velvet-backed chairs.

Outside, White House staffers scurried with cell phones.

Richard Socarides, the special assistant to President Clinton and the summit's chief operating officer, was one of them.

His duties, described between frequent calls, included: making sure that green touch-up paint was applied to the conference's VIP green room and ensuring that no more large light fixtures fall down. (One tumbled yesterday morning.)

One of Socarides' most crucial tasks yesterday was hanging onto his briefcase.

After all, it held all the credentials of the U.S. NATO delegation.

Next door, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the site of most of the NATO meetings, the NATO host committee began distributing its promotional materials.

Most of them touted the strength and success of the alliance.

Business of war

One booklet, "NATO 50: Mapping the Future," included glossy advertisements for defense products -- ads for high-powered attack jet engines and global defense electronic systems that seemed all the more chilling given the crisis in Kosovo.

The war in Yugoslavia is proving the event's sober backdrop.

At the National Security Council's makeshift offices near the conference site, staffers put sheets of brown paper over second-story windows to keep prying eyes from glimpsing NATO-related secrets.

All in the details

War may be on world leaders' minds, but somebody has to think about the details.

"You have to worry about how the meeting is set up, will there be interpreters, where are the bathrooms, are you going to have 15 minutes to give these people a snack?" said Maria Echaveste, a White House deputy chief of staff.

"To an outside observer, it might not seem very important, but if it doesn't happen, there will be some unhappy people."

Socarides, who yesterday counted down the hours he had left to squeeze in last-minute fixes before the summit, said he was looking forward to serious discussions that move NATO forward as an alliance.

And then, he added with a grin, "I'm looking forward to it being over."

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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