Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

Updated 01 December 2018
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Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

  • What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists

I have the feeling that, whether there are geopolitical fireworks at the G20 summit or not, the event is in for a pretty good press. The Argentine organizers have made the best of an unpromising situation and gone out of their way to keep the media happy.
Planners were faced with a big logistical problem in the early stages of preparing for the event. The chosen site for the actual summit — the Costa Seguero Center on the shores of the Rio de la Plata — was not big enough to hold both the summit leaders, with their enormous entourages and teams of “sherpa” assistants, as well as the 2,500 or so journalists attending from around the world.
They decided to split the media from the summiteers, and move the journalists to Parque Norte, a sports complex about 5 km farther upriver. Maybe there was a security element in the decision, too, with no pesky journalists to contend with on the main site in a city that has gone into lockdown for the summit.
When we were first shown the arrangements, I must admit I was disappointed. From a journalist’s point of view, these kinds of events always work best when you can mingle with the stars, grab a few words on the sidelines, and generally rub shoulders with the movers and shakers.
This is why Davos works so well: You never know who you will bump into in the rabbit runs of the Kongresshalle. So when I heard that the media in Buenos Aires were to be “banished” to Parque Norte, my heart sank. Two days of watching a big screen with one eye on a “live” feed from the center? Ho hum. It would have been much better to be at the thick of a media scrum in the summit center. But there are many compensations at Parque Norte. The facilities are mind-boggling. The main press room is about the biggest I have ever seen, an aircraft hangar of a chamber oozing the latest in bling gadgetry.
And, something not to be taken for granted in Argentina, as I have learned since I arrived a couple of days ago: The Internet works much better than it does outside the media enclave.
The organizers have promised to make leaders and their officials available at Parque by driving them up to the media hub for interviews, or by driving media down the road to the center.
Let’s see how that one works in practice, but there was a steady stream of senior Argentine politicians on parade yesterday.
What will probably go a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of the assembled scribblers are the incidental facilities at Parque Norte. You want cool VR displays in a fake jungle setting with books dangling artistically from the ceiling? You want a cafeteria serving splendid Argentine produce around the clock? You want a drinks dispenser providing local specialities on tap? How about a bright red popcorn truck?
And, this being football-crazy Argentina, you want your own dedicated media football pitch? You’ve got all these and more at Parque Norte.
It is not just the fripperies, either. Some serious thought has gone into making visiting journalists, from many different countries and cultures, as welcome and comfortable as possible. What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists.
Will the world’s hard-nosed hacks be swayed by such little acts of kindness? That remains to be seen. But they will probably be less inclined to put the boot into the host nation as a result. I’m going to gauge the mood of the international media about their temporary home in Buenos Aires at an evening welcome reception, complete with tango display, and will report back.


US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

Updated 20 January 2019
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US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

  • US and Pakistan should have “strategic engagement”, not transactional relationship
  • The American senator sees a “unique opportunity” to change diplomatic direction of US-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD:  US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult US relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

"I've seen things change here and all in a positive direction," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump "far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today".

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by "strategic engagement", including a free trade agreement, he said.

US relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies. However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.

Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.

Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the US side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington's previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.

With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the US commitment to Afghanistan.

Asked whether there had been confusion over the US message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said "without a doubt" but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable," he told Reuters. "Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."