Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

A fringe benefit of the G8? We're no longer news in US

Talking point: Michelle Obama
Talking point: Michelle Obama

From the perspective of the US, the G8 in Northern Ireland has been all about Syria. From the perspective of Northern Ireland this is actually some evidence of progress.

To put it another way – we're no longer the central focus during talks about violence. As with that other Game of Thrones, we're now all about the backdrop.

But it would be fair to say that in the last few days the spotlight on Fermanagh (with the odd dubious pronunciation) has been relatively scant on US television. (CNN's woman reporting on the G8 game of thrones in Enniskillen was coming live – from Sligo.)

US television had coverage of Mr Obama, sleeves rolled up alongside David Cameron, at the Enniskillen primary school, looking a bit like they'd both been overcome by summer heat.

And then there were those tie-less shots of Barack and Vladimir both looking tetchy and grim after a meeting that was doubtless as chilly as afternoon tea at the Saatchis'.

Allegations of spying at a previous UK G8 summit have made major headlines in the US where the media is currently consumed with the debate about state telephone hacking.

But Syria is the major talking point on the evening news.

Obama, whose ratings particularly among the young have dipped to a new poll low, is this week facing stiff criticism over his move to provide some degree of military aid to Syrian rebels.

There is concern among American voters about the US getting involved in yet another conflict. (Can you blame them?)

Especially on the side of rebels who as Mr Putin has pointed out "eat their enemies' organs".

Not that Putin himself has room to talk. He's backing the gruesome Assad regime which has been accused of using chemical weapons against its own people and is supported by Iran and Hezbollah (a hell of a choice there in who to side with).

Syria is an appalling mess. It is a mess that could so easily become so much worse. And it is a sectarian mess to boot.

This latter point you would hope, might have had some resonance with those G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland of all places. The length and still poisonous legacy of our own sectarian Troubles should have been a reminder that such tribal battles are not easily sorted by outside interference.

But genuine "talks" you imagine are not what the G8 is about.

Where the leaders are concerned, it's primarily about the power play and the posturing. Shirt sleeves and your tie off and posing for the cameras back home.

In Fermanagh, as with every previous summit, it has been about sending the (tie-less) message that "We're in charge".

Our own (tie-less) First and Deputy First Ministers have barely featured in cross-Atlantic coverage.

They may also be disappointed to learn they have even been eclipsed by a hairdo and a piece of commemorative jewellery.

First off – Michelle Obama's new longer fringe which has been raising eyebrows in the American media. Too floppy, they say.

Then there's the strange story of Vladimir Putin's Super Bowl ring ... What this hooha is about is that in a recent speech, Robert Kraft, who owns the New York Patriots football team, claimed that Mr Putin once made off with his diamond ring.

Kraft told his audience that back in 2005 during a meeting with the Russian president, he'd taken off his own $25,000 ring to show to Mr Putin.

Says Kraft: "He put it on and he goes: 'I can kill someone with this ring.'

"I put my hand out and he puts it in his pocket and three KGB guys get around him and he walked out."

You mean he stole it, Mr Kraft?

Well ...

Mr Kraft's people have since released a statement which suggests the story may have been told entirely light-heartedly.

And Mr Putin's people have, of course, dismissed any suggestion that their man snaffled the ring.

They say it was given to him as a gift. The Super Bowl ring in question is encrusted with diamonds and is currently on display in the Kremlin library. Possibly as part of an exhibition about expensive bad taste if images of the thing on US TV are anything to go by. Honestly. You wouldn't want it. As for the history of how it ended up in Moscow, one American television commentator notes: "Who to believe? I always side with the guy with nuclear capacity."

It's a jokey yarn dominating coverage of a conference that is all about spying and Syria and the genuinely grave implications of guys with nuclear capacity.

As for us ... we really don't feature much at all in the American news coverage.

Northern Ireland, like Michelle's new hairdo is, these days, just a minor fringe issue.

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