Bush's private remarks aired

Chat with Blair at G-8 captured

By Peter Baker
Washington Post / July 18, 2006

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Bush should know that in Russia, someone is always listening. In this case, it was the rest of the world.

During a lunch with other leaders at the Group of Eight summit yesterday, Bush was caught on a live microphone talking in tough, occasionally profane terms with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the latest conflict in the Middle East. Bush criticized the position taken by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and said he would soon send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region.

``What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," Bush said.

The conversation, while consistent with Bush's more polite public remarks, offered a rare glimpse of the president in a less-guarded moment at a major diplomatic event, capturing his style of interaction with one of his closest allies.

It also punctured the White House line that the leaders all shared the same view of the Middle East, as Bush expressed irritation at Annan, who has sent a three-person team to the region and who is attending the summit as a guest.

``What about Kofi? That seems odd," Bush said, according to transcripts assembled by journalists here. The president seemed miffed at the idea of a cease-fire in which Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas would simultaneously stop violence.

Bush aides have said Hezbollah and Hamas should quit firing rockets and release captive Israeli soldiers first before Israel calls an end to its military strikes in Lebanon and Gaza.

``Well, I don't like the sequence of it," Bush said. Referring to Annan, the president added, ``His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens."

Bush later returned to the subject of Annan. ``I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad, make something happen," the president said, referring to Syrian President Bashir Assad. ``We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government."

Bush also told Blair, who was standing next to the seated president, of his plans to dispatch Rice to the Mideast. ``I think Condi's going to go pretty soon," he said.

``Well, that's all that matters," Blair said. ``If you see, it will take some time to get out of there. But at least it gives people a process."

``It's a process, I agree," Bush said. ``I told her your offer, too."

It's not clear what offer he was referring to. Blair made a reference during the conversation to laying some groundwork before the trip, so Rice could deliver something concrete. ``See, if she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can just go out and talk," he said.

The open microphone also captured the sort of idle chitchat among world leaders rarely on public display. Bush said he did not plan to make extended remarks as the summit ended and expressed impatience for the long-winded speechifying that is typical at such gatherings.

``No, just going to make it up," he said. ``I'm not going to talk too damn long, like the rest of them. Some of them talk too long."

Bush also offered his thanks to Blair for what was probably a gift for the president's 60th birthday.

``Thanks for the sweater, it was awfully thoughtful of you," Bush said. Then he added mischievously, ``I know you picked it out yourself."

``Oh, absolutely," Blair declared.