VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
AT every summit the most important question is not what the great and powerful discussed but what they ate. In search of that overarching truth, a Monitor correspondent made his way to the lovely Seasons in the Park restaurant, where the night before Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton were served a sumptuous repast.
Exhaustive interviews with the staff yielded these revelations: Mr. Clinton held up his reputation as an epicure by leaving barely a trace of a gourmet meal of British Columbia salmon with all the trimmings. Mr. Yeltsin, to the dismay of all, picked at his food, preferring to occupy the dinner time with conversation.
But the burly Russian leader, who is known to favor herring and boiled potatoes, did not go hungry. Another meal was awaiting upon return to his hotel, whose staff made sure they didn't serve up the same dish.
Snapshots taken by the staff of Seasons in the Park yielded a look at seldom-seen objects - the special phones installed just for the dinner. Clinton's modern multiline console was labeled "White House Direct Line." Yeltsin, not to be outdone, had brought along one of the clunky, white plastic rotary-dial phones that can be found in large numbers besides the desk of every Moscow bureaucrat - the more phones, the higher the standing in the apparatus. Perhaps the phone was flown in along with Yeltsin's bul ky black armored Zil limousine, an automotive monument to Soviet design. Where, oh where, was the Russian briefer?
The Russian contingent at the Vancuover summit demonstrated an attitude toward the press more reminiscent of old-style Soviets than their most recent predecessors - the Mikhail Gorbachev government.
While the White House Press Office was dispensing briefings at a near hourly pace, neither the press service of the Russian president nor any of the small assembly of ministers in his entourage managed even one such appearance.
Even the bastions of Russian government-controlled media, such as Russian state television and the official Itar-Tass news agency, were left wandering the halls in search of someone to tell them what to say. "Nothing happened here," a well-known Russian TV newsman snapped cynically when asked to explain the neglect.
The disappearing act becomes all the more curious when one considers that Yeltsin is trying to promote democracy and is supposedly in the midst of a political fight for his life. Making sure the Russian media get the right message out from Vancouver would appear to have been a priority. A tree grew overnight
Most of the action during the April 3-4 summit took place in the Spanish colonial house of the president of the University of British Columbia, set on a cliff looking out across English Bay to downtown Vancouver and the snow-capped Pacific Coast range. The cliff also looked out over a nude beach just below the house. The summiteering heads of state strolled past the "clothing optional" sign, but would not have noticed. It was blocked by a tree that delicately appeared the night before. `How many more waves?'
The world glimpsed the sitting room where the leaders talked in brown leather chairs by a fireplace because small groups of news gatherers with cameras and notebooks were allowed to pass through the room in several quick waves. Clinton was eager for business. "How many more waves do we have?" he inquired pointedly to one group.
Clinton displayed his restlessness outside the room, too. Feeling "unusually robust," according to White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, the president ran nearly four miles Saturday morning.