Iraqi president speaks at conference in Aspen

John Colson

The president of Iraq was in Aspen on Friday to speak at the Forstmann Little & Co.’s annual conference. The private gathering at the Hotel Jerome and the Maroon Creek Club expressly bans the press and public.Iraqi President Jalal Talabani landed around 8 p.m. Thursday at Walker Field in Grand Junction in a private Boeing 757 jet, which is too big to fly into Aspen. A large motorcade whisked him up to Aspen, according to the KREX-TV station in Grand Junction. A report on the station’s Website estimated the motorcade as “more than 15 cars and an ambulance.”Former police officer Paul Mayer, who lives near Basalt, said he was working in his garage workshop overlooking Highway 82 about 9:30 p.m. Thursday when he heard motorcycles buzzing by. It caught his attention because it was drizzling at the time.Mayer looked out to see motorcycle cops blocking intersections to make sure no traffic slipped into what he termed an enormous convoy of vehicles speeding upvalley, many of them dark-colored SUVs. “I’ve seen motorcades before but nothing like this,” Mayer said. “I thought it was something at a presidential level.” A Colorado State Patrol spokesman denied rumors that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was with Talabani. Talabani reportedly was staying at the Hyatt Grand Aspen, where he arrived at around 10 p.m. Thursday.Aspenite Heather Hicks said Friday that she and friends were walking past the Hyatt Grand Aspen on their way to her house around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, and Aspen police officers stopped them and demanded to know where they were going. During the ensuing conversation, Hicks said, she and her companions asked what all the fuss was about and, when they guessed correctly, the police essentially confirmed their idea.Talabani originally was scheduled to speak at noon Friday at the Maroon Creek Club, according to sources familiar with the scheduling, though things apparently ran a little late.It was near 1 p.m. when Colorado State Patrol motorcycle troopers led a motorcade down Garmisch Street and across Main, with traffic stopped in both directions on Main and on side streets connecting to Garmisch and to Hallam Street, the motorcade’s route out of Aspen toward the Maroon Creek Club. Talabani is said to have given a talk in a large tent pavilion on the Maroon Creek Club grounds, and was due to have left Aspen by today.Law enforcement indicated the local police presence included the U.S. Secret Service, the elite Iraqi Guard security force, state police, Aspen police and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.Sheriff Bob Braudis said he could not comment on the conference, citing confidentiality requests from the parties involved.A spokeswoman for the Forstmann-Little & Co. would say only, “It’s a private conference. No comment. Thank you.” Neither the title nor topic of Talabani’s talk was made public.John Colson’s e-mail address is