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Travel Pool Report No. 13: NATO ceremony
Philip Rucker • The Washington Post
May 25, 2017: 05:45 PM

President Trump attended an outdoor ceremony to mark the transfer of NATO's new headquarters building from the Belgian government to NATO. The ceremony took place on a large plaza outside the new headquarters.

The leaders took their seats in white chairs under a clear awning. A few of them put on sunglasses because of the bright sun, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though Trump did not.

As they waited for the ceremony to begin, Trump chatted briefly with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who sat next to him to his left.

Belgian King Philippe and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived and took their seats in the front row, next to Trump, as a military band performed.

As the band played, Trump leaned over to chat with May some more.

The prime minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, was the first speaker. It was difficult for your pooler to understand his remarks. Although he spoke in English, he had a heavy accent, and the wind outdoors did not help. Michel welcomed guests to the ceremony and referenced the attacks in Manchester to issue a call for unity.

Michel said all leaders have to work together to preserve security. He talked about the need for civility and security. He talked about NATO coming to the United States' defense after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and how many citizens of NATO member states served in Afghanistan.

Michel said, "Our alliance has been strong for almost 70 years and these new headquarters are the symbol we need because I believe NATO can and will continue to make a difference."

The next speaker was NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said of the new building: "This is a 21st century headquarters for a 21st century alliance."

Stoltenberg talked about tragedy striking on Sept. 11, 2001, and the world changing again. He talked about the fight against terrorism and NATO's role bringing peace and not conflict. He said there has always been "one constant" since NATO's founding: "Our unity."

"Our alliance stands strong, united and resolute," Stoltenberg said. Trump and the other leaders applauded.

At times during both Michel and Stoltenberg's remarks, Trump crossed his arms and fidgeted slightly, looking around at the scene before him or staring down at his feet. Many of the other leaders sat still throughout.

After the two speeches, the leaders all stood at attention as uniformed military officers raised the 28 flags of NATO countries and trumpets played. There was a 29th flagpole, which was empty today but will soon fly the flag of Montenegro, which is soon becoming a NATO country.

The band played the NATO anthem, as the leaders remained standing. Trump stood still, watching attentively as the ceremony was conducted. He was the only male leader in the front row with his suit jacket unbuttoned.

The leaders then stepped into the plaza as six separate groups of military aircraft from different countries flew over the headquarters in formation. The planes were Grippen F-16s from Belgium and Awac planes owned by NATO, which are one of NATO's contributions to the anti-ISIS campaign. A final, seventh group included six jets leaving streaks of black, yellow and red smoke, to represent the Belgian flag.

Trump stood watching next to Stoltenberg and May, looking into the sky as Stoltenberg spoke in his ear, perhaps explaining the significance of the fly-over.

The ceremony concluded with the band playing the Belgian hymn.

The other leaders, including Trump, remained standing on the plaza as King Philippe and Stoltenberg exited and a band played an anthem. The leaders were then invited to proceed to a meeting in the conference center.

As the leaders dispersed, Trump walked out alone and did not talk with any other leaders, even as some others mingled with each other.

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