By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
It must be the season. President Bush tried yesterday to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And he tried to make peace with Al Gore.
For the first time since Bush moved into the house Gore coveted, the two adversaries from the tumultuous 2000 presidential election sat down to talk. When they later let in the folks with pens and cameras, they were all smiles, but mum about their discussion.
The official purpose of the historic summit was not the Middle East peace conference Bush is also hosting this week but the normally more prosaic photo op the White House typically schedules each year with the latest American winners of the Nobel Prize. As it happened, this year's laureates included none other than the guy Bush's father once called "Ozone Man."
The president decided to go a step beyond duty by meeting with Gore in the Oval Office for 40 minutes before the formal picture-taking. With just two aides on hand, the two reportedly talked about global warming, an issue that has divided them almost as much as the contested recount in Florida. Gore did not bring the famous slideshow that formed the basis for his Oscar-winning movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," but he probably doesn't need his PowerBook anymore.
After leaving the White House, Gore decided to forgo the easy escape by car and instead walked with his wife, Tipper, out of the gates into the street, trailed by a mob of reporters and photographers. Beyond saying that they talked about climate change, the former vice president would not describe his conversation with Bush in detail. "He was very gracious in setting up the meeting and it was a very good and substantive conversation," Gore said. "And that's all I want to say about it."
A bit anticlimatic after seven years of buildup. No matter how much time has passed since one of the most bitter elections of modern times, the bitterness has lingered, at least among supporters. And along the way, Gore has evolved into one of the president's toughest critics, condemning the war in Iraq, warrantless surveillance, harsh interrogations and other policies of an administration his team believes was illegitimately installed by the Supreme Court.
The Nobel Peace Prize for Gore's efforts to stir awareness and action against climate change was seen by many in the Bush team as another slap against the president by liberal, foreign elitists who resent his opposition to the Kyoto treaty that the former vice president helped negotiate. Bush made no comment the day it was awarded, leaving it to his staff to issue somewhat tepid congratulations.
But he eventually decided to use the occasion to reach out, and he personally called Gore to invite his onetime rival to the White House for the Nobel photo op, even changing the date when the first one did not work for the former vice president. "Honestly, they've been great to work with from start to finish," Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said of the White House.
"I know this president does not harbor any resentments," White House press secretary Dana Perino insisted. "He never has."
Pressed about Bush's motivations, Perino said, "I didn't psychoanalyze the president to find out why he decided to invite Al Gore to the White House. There is an annual event in which the president invites the Nobel Prize winners -- American Nobel Prize winners -- to the White House. Al Gore happens to be one of those recipients this year. And I believe it was a presidential, gentlemanly and a friendly thing to do to invite Al Gore to the White House."
Bush and Gore last met at the official vice president's residence in December 2000 after the court decided the case that will forever bear their names, Bush v. Gore, effectively giving the electoral college victory to Bush even though Gore won the popular vote. Otherwise, they have seen each other without really talking at ceremonial events such as a presidential library opening or a state funeral.
Their meeting in the Oval Office yesterday, also attended by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and Council on Environmental Quality Director James Connaughton, afforded the president a chance to hear more about climate change as he tries to forge an international accord for what to do once Kyoto expires. Bush has decided in recent months to try to play a greater leadership role on climate change, but still opposes the sort of regulatory solutions favored by Gore. No one was laying odds that Gore changed Bush's mind.
Still, they smiled readily enough as they stood before the cameras after their meeting. No one sighed. No one called for a recount. When it was done, the Gores and the other Nobel laureates were invited to a reception in the Indian Treaty Room.
And then the president turned his attention back to bridging that other great divide, the one in the Middle East.
After all, if Gore could come by to talk, why not the Syrians?