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A Rare Unscripted Moment

Bush fires off some pleasantries -- and a four-letter word about Hezbollah -- before a nearby microphone is noticed and turned off.

July 18, 2006|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

STRELNA, Russia — President Bush complained Monday that some of his fellow leaders at an international summit talk too much -- way too much. His advice to the host, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, was that they "gotta keep this thing moving."

And he had a profane suggestion for resolving the conflict in Lebanon.

A nearly four-minute recording apparently made without Bush's knowledge and relayed by Russian television captured the president's candid lunchtime chatter at a gathering of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.

The tape offered a rare instance of unfiltered conversation among leaders that veered from the serious, such as the Middle East crisis, to inconsequential chitchat while beverages were poured and bread was broken.

During a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about ways that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan might help resolve the ongoing warfare between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Bush put it this way: "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over."

Blair subsequently noticed that the microphone was on and turned it off.

The president showed impatience to move on after the three-day summit, saying he planned to deliver his final remarks off the cuff and to keep them short.

"I'm just gonna make it up. I'm not gonna talk too damn long like the rest of 'em," he said. "Some of these guys talk too long." Putin, sitting on Bush's left, seemed to chime in, "yeah," in heavily accented English.

"Good job," Bush replied. "Gotta keep this thing moving.

"I gotta leave at 2:15. You want me out of town so it can free up your security forces," Bush continued, apparently to his host. The president said he was ready to finish a trip that began in Germany on Wednesday.

"Get on a plane and go home," he said of his plans.

Then, to Chinese President Hu Jintao, Bush said: "Where you going? Home? This is your neighborhood. Doesn't take too long to get home?" When told Hu's flight to Beijing would be eight hours, Bush said, "Me too."

"Russia's a big country and you're a big country." Then he told someone else, "No, not Coke. Diet Coke."

And resuming his flight geography lesson, he was heard saying to someone: "Takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia's big and so's China."

To Blair he said: "Yeah, Blair. What are you doing? You leaving?" Blair responded that he wasn't leaving right away.

Moments later, Bush remembered a gift had come his way.

"Thanks for the sweater," Bush, who just celebrated his 60th birthday, told Blair. "It was awfully thoughtful of you. I know you picked it out yourself."

The prime minister chimed in, "Oh, absolutely."

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