At NATO summit, Obama's ride is talk of the town

Some heads of state are zipping around Lisbon, host city of the NATO summit, in no-emission electric vehicles. Security dictates that Obama travel in the no-efficiency 'Beast,' a vehicle that fascinates the local press.

Parivartan Sharma/Reuters
A car from the motorcade of U.S. President Barack Obama moves past Indian Parliament building in New Delhi November 8.

Whoops, President Obama must have missed the memo on this one.

While the Portuguese prime minister and the Portuguese president of the European Union’s executive commission are tooling around the NATO summit here in no-emission electric vehicles, Mr. Obama is fouling the Lisbon skies with his no-efficiency "Beast," the eight-ton, diesel-fueled behemoth of a limousine the president carts around the world with him.

Obama is expected to discuss climate change and a common US-Europe approach to it when he takes part in a US-European Union (EU) summit after the NATO meeting on Saturday. But in the meantime, the Portuguese capital is being treated to a jarring dichotomy: the polluting "leader of the free world," on one hand, lumbering across town in the Beast with a phalanx of black Secret Service vehicles and Portuguese police motorcycles in tow; and the Europeans zipping around in smart electric vehicles, on the other.

Oh, and to drive the point home, journalists attending the summit are being ferried to events in electric buses, as well.

RELATED: Obama arrives at NATO summit with revised strategy in Afghanistan: Stay past 2014

A “note to the media” left at every journalist’s work station in the summit press center says the use of electric vehicles is meant to raise awareness of Portugal’s “world pioneering leadership in electric mobility.” Portugal claims to derive 45 percent of its electricity consumption from “clean” energies. Its “Mobi.E” electric mobility network – with 100 charging stations in 25 municipalities around the country, set to rise to 1,300 charging points by mid-2011 – is considered a world leader.

But the Portuguese press is more interested in the Beast. Pages in Lisbon newspapers have been dedicated to cutaway renderings of “Cadillac One,” with charts and boxes offering every detail of the vehicle that the Secret Service divulges: the Kevlar tires, the special foam in the gas tank to immediately extinguish any fire from a direct hit, the supply of presidential blood.

Another point of fascination is the unparalleled security detail to accompany Obama as he moves from bilateral meetings with Portuguese leaders to the summit venue to the Lisbon Marriott Hotel, where he may or may not sleep. (Another overnight option, to keep everyone guessing, is the residence of the US ambassador to Portugal).

While Obama’s motorcade is accompanied by the 35 Portuguese police motorcycles, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – who arrives for a three-hour visit Saturday to participate in a NATO-Russia Council meeting – will get no such treatment.

On the bright side for Mr. Medvedev, he – unlike Obama – will be able to claim that his modest transport is more in line with the NATO meeting’s green theme.

RELATED: Obama arrives at NATO summit with revised strategy in Afghanistan: Stay past 2014

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