Friendship, His Way
Since then, Bush has continued to have close relations with Putin, who also will attend the summit, even as questions have arisen about whether Putin was smothering Russia's fragile democracy. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the relationship is "so broad and deep, the presidents could talk about anything on the map" when they meet at the summit.
A close look at Bush's relations with four leaders from different regions of the world -- Britain's Blair, Mexico's Vicente Fox, Japan's Koizumi and Israel's Ariel Sharon -- offers insights to how Bush will operate during this critical diplomatic period.
The White House declined to make an official available to speak about the president's views on foreign leaders, or to respond to a list of nearly 20 questions about specific examples in this article.
Blair: Same Wavelength
Blair was extremely close to Clinton, a fellow political centrist, and much of his staff -- and his wife, Cherie Blair -- were furious that Bush won the disputed 2000 election over Clinton's vice president, Al Gore. But that did not stop Blair from carefully studying Bush and figuring out what he wanted, British officials said.
So, on his first visit to Washington to meet with Bush, Blair arrived with a proposal: He would support Bush's plan for a missile defense system -- which most European countries vehemently opposed -- if Bush would agree to negotiate a deal ending the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia instead of pulling out unilaterally. Bush eventually adopted Blair's idea. The Camp David meeting, best known for Bush's comment that the two men had much in common because they both used Colgate toothpaste, set the stage for their working relationship.
Blair sees himself as a bridge to Europe for Bush, and he works to dull the sharp edges of the administration's unilateral tendencies. In the run-up to the war with Iraq, Blair helped Bush make midcourse corrections in a bid to win greater international support -- though, in the end, the effort largely failed.
Bush and Blair now closely coordinate their policies. Blair writes long letters to Bush -- it is unclear whether Bush writes long letters back -- and the two leaders frequently communicate via a secure video link between the White House and the basement of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence.
The two couples have also mixed it up. Philip Stephens, associate editor of the Financial Times and author of a sympathetic biography of Blair, said that Cherie Blair, a noted lawyer, once confronted Bush as the two couples dined together about his frequent use of the death penalty as Texas governor. At the same meal, Stephens said, Laura Bush confided that she disagreed with the president's opposition to abortion.
As Blair's poll ratings have sunk because of the turmoil in Iraq, a number of his advisers have counseled the prime minister to distance himself from Bush. But Stephens said Blair is irritated by this advice, arguing that a relationship with a U.S. president is "not a balance-sheet exercise." Pressed on how Bush has accommodated Blair's concerns, Blair will frequently cite the Middle East peace process, such as persuading Bush to accept the now-stalled peace plan known as the "road map."
"Blair would say he's been influential" on the peace process, Stephens said. "What I would say is: If that is influence, what is it worth?"
Fox: No Big Advantage
The budding romance between Fox and Bush died with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Days before the attacks, the Mexican president and two of his advisers, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser and Jorge Castaneda, flew on Air Force One with the president. Aguilar Zinser recalled a very relaxed Bush telling them: "I feel much more comfortable around you guys" than other world leaders. Bush offered them beers, serving a nonalcoholic one to himself. Loose, candid and comfortable, Bush talked excitedly about what an affinity he had with Mexico's new leadership.
At the White House ceremony on Sept. 5, Fox even boldly declared the two men would reach agreement by the end of the year on a broad new program for work visas for migrants.
But three years later, it is clear that Fox's friendship with Bush has not brought Mexico any real advantage. A Mexican official, who asked not to be identified, said that he believes Bush and Fox are friends, but that what has changed is Bush's focus. At the outset of Bush's presidency he said Washington had no more important relationship than the one it had with Mexico. But after Sept. 11, his focus turned to the war on terrorism.
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