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Bush's Bull Session: Loud And Clear, Chief

Bush soon lost interest and thanked Blair for a gift, presumably for his recent 60th birthday.

"Thanks for the sweater. Awfully thoughtful of you," Bush said. Turning mischievous, he added, "I know you picked it out yourself."

"Oh, absolutely," Blair said as they both laughed.

Then Bush turned the discussion to Annan and the cease-fire issue. He told Blair he was sending Rice to the region. Blair offered to make a public statement of some kind to prepare the ground. "Obviously, if she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can just go out and talk," he said.

That was when Bush complained about Hezbollah and groused about telling Annan to call Assad. Only then did Blair notice the microphone and snap it off.

The exchange with Blair, one of his closest allies, offered a peek into their relationship. Bush repeatedly interrupted or changed the subject, Blair at times stammered as he tried to make his points. Asked about it at a later news conference, Blair smiled and said it was actually "all about transparent government." White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush "rolled his eyes and laughed" when he learned what happened.

Talking with reporters as Air Force One flew back to Washington, Snow said Bush owes Annan no explanation. "You get a slice of a conversation that was a carry-over from previous conversations and all the president was saying is that he wants to make sure that the sequencing is clear when it comes to action with regard to the situation in the Middle East."

As for the president's relationship with the secretary general, Snow said, "He likes Kofi Annan and he is not only happy to work with him, but has been supportive from the very start of the U.N. mission to the region."

Finally, Snow was asked if he had a comment "on the president's use of a word that some people might consider to be an expletive."

"Not unless you've never used it," Snow said.

"Damn," the reporter replied.

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