Friendship, His Way
In 2001, Fox had just been elected and captivated worldwide interest as the democratic leader who defeated the authoritarian party that led Mexico since 1929. Now, the official said, Fox is perceived as someone who cannot deliver what Bush wants -- such as a critical vote on the U.N. Security Council supporting war against Iraq -- and Bush no longer sees him as a "go-to guy." The official said: "In 2000, Bush needed Fox. Now he doesn't."
Despite the change in the dynamic of their official relationship, Fox and Bush remain friendly, in part because they both "ooze that their religion deeply affects them," one official said. Fox is a Roman Catholic who attends Mass each week. During meetings, Bush and Fox each have talked about their mothers and family, according to those in the room with them. "I think there is deep empathy between the two," another government official said.
Still, Aguilar Zinser said, the Bush-Fox relationship fits the tradition for Mexico that being well-received in Washington does not translate into "a cutting-edge advantage."
Koizumi: Good Chemistry
Koizumi, who has broken the mold of the cautious Japanese politician, has hit it off with Bush since their first meeting in June 2001. Koizumi usually dispenses with the talking points prepared by the Foreign Ministry bureaucrats and instead pushes the issues that interest him.
"They speak very freely," said a senior Japanese official who has attended meetings between Bush and Koizumi. "What Koizumi says is very 'human.' He speaks with different tones of voice, and he laughs a lot during the meeting. He is very honest with himself and conveys that very straightforwardly. And that mannerism suits Mr. Bush, too."
In policy terms, this has made a difference, particularly on the Japanese side. Where cautious bureaucrats might have once seen red lights from their leadership, they now only see green lights, U.S. and Japanese officials said. In fact, lower-level Japanese officials now have more incentive to resolve issues with American counterparts to avoid having them handled by their unpredictable leader. As one official put it, "the bureaucrats know that if a matter goes to the two leaders they know what would happen" -- Koizumi will agree to Bush's request.
Koizumi also has a raw sense of humor. During a meeting in Crawford, Tex., in 2003, the two men sat by the pool for several hours, with only interpreters. At one point, Koizumi mentioned he had listened to an Elvis Presley song the previous day. "Usually people stop there. But Koizumi actually started to sing the song," the official said. "That lack of formality is what Bush likes about Koizumi. Koizumi is Japan's Texan."
In the past three years, Koizumi has been a strong supporter of Bush's major policies -- the fight against terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the strategy to restrain North Korea's nuclear arms programs, and the missile defense initiative. Under Japan's pacifist constitution, sending Japan's Self-Defense Forces overseas is highly controversial. But Koizumi provided swift logistic support for U.S. forces during the Afghanistan conflict; he also sent troops to southern Iraq to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.
In return, Koizumi has won Bush's blessing to pursue talks with North Korea over the fate of Japanese hostages. The White House initially was blindsided by Koizumi's plans to visit Pyongyang in 2001. Before Koizumi departed, Bush privately warned him that the United States possessed new intelligence showing North Korea has a secret uranium program. That intelligence led to the current crisis over North Korea. More recently, Bush quickly approved Koizumi's plan to return to Pyongyang last month.
"There is a tolerance Bush has for elements of Koizumi's rapprochement with North Korea he wouldn't tolerate with anyone else," said Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard, until last year senior envoy for negotiations with North Korea.
Sharon: Not a Schmoozer
Bush had met Sharon before he became president, when as governor he took a tour of Israel that included Sharon's standard helicopter ride to show the insecurity of Israel's borders. But even that initial encounter did not help break the ice when they had their first meeting at the White House early in 2001.
David Ivry, then the U.S. ambassador to Israel, recalled that Bush tried to bring up personal issues during the lunch. "President Bush very much wanted to go beyond political issues," Ivry said. But whenever Bush tried to bring up a subject not related to politics, "Sharon heard it and went back to political issues immediately."
But one key issue was settled at that first meeting: an understanding that Sharon would not do anything to harm Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A few weeks ago, when Sharon hinted he was no longer bound by that understanding, Bush reacted in fury and Sharon quickly retreated.
But generally Sharon works hard to stay in Bush's favor. Sharon, in fact, "sees as his signal achievement that he has avoided crossed wires with Bush," said David Makovsky, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is in close contact with Israeli and American officials. "The question of his credibility is important for Sharon."
Under Bush's simple calculus, however, Sharon for much of his term was a good person with little or no vision. That assessment changed, U.S. and Israeli officials say, when Sharon earlier this year presented Bush with his plan to vacate Gaza and part of the West Bank.
Bush's willingness to embrace Sharon's "vision" -- in particular, the demand for letters outlining U.S. concessions to Israel's negotiating position with the Palestinians -- has caused a fierce backlash in the Arab world and to some extent has eroded Bush's other goals in the Middle East.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in fact, is so politically sensitive, both domestically and internationally, that the two men carefully plot their formal meetings. Administration officials, however, recall one unscripted exchange between the two men. Bush had called Sharon a "man of peace" in 2002, infuriating Arabs. During a meeting months later, when the Israeli leader -- who tends to speak in platitudes in the formal sessions -- began to say he was a "man of peace and security," Bush pounced.
"I know you are a man of security," Bush said, according to a witness to the conversation. "I want you to work harder on the peace part."
Then, using colloquial language that seemed to baffle Sharon, Bush added: "I said you were a man of peace. I want you to know I took immense crap for that."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company