Let’s just say we switched from European Time to Spanish Time, as Interior Minister Rubalcaba himself said.
On Wednesday, Secretary Napolitano spent the day testifying in two major hearings on the Hill—and when these hearings ran a little long, our plane to Spain took off a little behind schedule as well. Departing late is fine under most circumstances—the schedulers build in down time so we have some cushion between meetings and events in case something like this happens.
Not on this trip.
We’re in Europe for two days to discuss aviation security with our international partners – a critically important issue given the attempted attack on Dec.25 – and the Secretary has a packed schedule of meetings, events, interviews and bilateral discussions.
So, we took off at 6 PM from Washington, D.C., got two or three hours of sleep on the flight as the Secretary spent most of her time preparing for the next day’s meetings, and landed at 6:45 AM local time in Spain. I’d say my mood as we deplaned could have generously been described as “groggy,” as we were whisked from the airport to the site, past some incredible local scenery and buildings – including the Cathedral of Toledo – and arrived barely on time.
We had only had 10 minutes before we began our first event. Here's hoping no one noticed we went to our first two bilateral meetings in the clothes we slept in!
Fortunately, next we had a brief break as the Europeans met behind closed doors. Freshly scrubbed we reconvened and went full force into the first full day and evening of scheduled events. Spanish coffee was dark and plentiful to get us past jet lag, though.
On this short trip, we had a lot to accomplish in our conversations with ministers from more than 30 countries about ways we can work together to make the world’s skies safer and more secure for passengers worldwide. The main event today was the Toledo ministerial – at the invitation of Interior Minister Alfred Rubalcaba – with all of the Secretary’s European homeland security counterparts.
We had an incredibly productive session. The attempted attack on Dec. 25 threatened people from 17 foreign countries, including more than 100 citizens of European nations, and Secretary Napolitano stressed the incident’s “international dimensions,” pressing the room for support to strengthen global security and screening standards.
I must say, I was amazed at the unanimity among the European ministers on the need for more international consensus as we take immediate steps to address the security shortfalls that allowed a man – armed with an explosive device – to board a plane headed for the United States. We discussed information collection, information sharing, technological cooperation, international standards, and foreign security assistance.
The ministers discussion was so lively we went overtime, so lunch was a quick bite before more bilateral meetings. Interior Ministers, Justice Ministers -- I think there were eight meetings, not including the press conference and a few press interviews.
In the private bilateral meetings, the sentiments were even more candid and it's clear there is a mandate to move forward on some European and some American ideas -- we put them together in the ministerial statement the Spanish hosts released. We and our European partners will talk more about and refine them in the coming days.
Finally came dinner in the beautiful Museo de Santa Cruz, hosted by the region of Castilla-La Mancha. Not everyday one eats dinner looking at 16th century tapestries. I hope to come back another time to do justice to Toledo, including the museum and the cathedral.
This was the first in a series of top-level meetings that the Secretary expects to hold with her counterparts around the world as she works to build toward more concrete international coordination on aviation security.
We’ll send another update tomorrow, when she has more bilateral meetings here before flying on to Switzerland.
Mark Koumans is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of International Affairs