As I write this post, we are about to depart the Dead Sea Marriott (where three networks, NBC News, Fox and CBS, have gathered to interview Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) for our headquarters in Amman. Our conversation with the Secretary went well -- though she has the most disciplined command of "message" of anyone I've encountered in public life. In plain English, the Secretary is not about to break news unless her intent is to break news. She preferred the word "challenge" over "crisis" to describe the current state of things in Iraq, and she scoffed at any mention of the "s" word (snub) to describe yesterday's cancellation of the meeting between the President and the Iraqi Prime Minister.
We will air much of the conversation tonight, along with our review of the news in this region, capped off by the President's meeting and press conference. David Gregory will have that story, while Richard Engel will catch the Iraqi angle, having talked to al-Maliki here today. Andrea Mitchell has a crucial role tonight: reporting on what is known about the so-called Baker Group, and what it will recommend.
Also today, outside this region, the Soviet/Russian/Britain spy poisoning story has expanded yet again. We will gather up the new and rather astounding moving parts.
And remember the dire predictions about Hurricane season 2006? Didn't happen. Tonight we'll look at what happened instead.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED AT THE DEAD SEA...
A bit of color: Fox went before us in the interview order, and their correspondent tried awfully hard to continue the interview with a straight face... after the conversation was interrupted... by a cat. The pool/beach-front deck at the Dead Sea Marriott is a sea of cats. At one table, we counted four felines, each of them seated in a different chair. These cats are of a tough and saucy breed. They have visible swagger. It's close to a strut, actually. One of them made off with the sandwich that had been the intended lunch of the CBS cameraman. The cats, as far as I could tell, run the place. When our cameraman tried to apprehend the cat that had been running around the interview, the cat objected loudly and clawed at him. Finally, after another cat interruption, a member of the security detail that surrounds the Secretary picked up the cat and tossed it off the patio, as several of us looked on, certain that this was a first in the annals of Secretary of State interviews. We're pretty sure the offending cat landed on its feet and is resting comfortably tonight.
More color: the four-lane highway from Amman to the Dead Sea is a majestic drive, full of neck-snapping confluences. It occurred to me, in what most Americans would describe as "the middle of nowhere," that I was conducting a crystal-clear, uninterrupted cell phone call with our New York newsroom -- something that is impossible on my daily commute to work back home. Along the way, we stopped the car to greet two men and their camels. I wasn't quite sure what to say to the men or the camels, but it felt like something to stop the car for. Like the cellphone service here, it was different from the daily commute back home.
We're now back on the road to Amman. We will try our level best to sort out this wide-ranging story in this complex region. We hope you can join us for our Thursday night broadcast from Amman.
Photo caption: Brian appreciates another mode of transportation in Jordan. Photo by NBC's Subrata De.