Peruvian president makes early exit from news conference with Clinton

By Glenn Kessler
Monday, June 7, 2010; 1:59 PM

LIMA, PERU -- Sometimes even diplomats get stood up.

The stage was set for a news conference: two chairs and two microphones on a table in the ornate neo-Baroque Salon Dorado of the presidential palace; two flags, of the United States and Peru. And a gaggle of reporters and photographers stood ready, armed with their questions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walked into the hall with Peruvian President Alan Garcia and sat down on the chair in front of the American flag, a blue folder of prepared remarks in front of her.

But Garcia remained standing at the side of table. He made a lengthy statement in Spanish. And then he walked briskly out of the room, leaving Clinton by herself.

As Garcia's statement was translated, presidential aides scurried about, removing the chair and microphone set up for Garcia. Clinton sat still, a bemused expression on her face.

As translated, Garcia's comments were gracious. He referred to Clinton's famous speech in Beijing on behalf of women's rights when she was first lady and to her efforts to reform health care -- "a struggle that at times was misunderstood," he said. He added, "She has a calling to serve women, to serve the poor, to serve the people."

But it is highly unusual for a host president to leave the chief U.S. diplomat sitting alone in his own palace, even before his words are translated. Uruguay's then-president-elect did something similar earlier this year, but he needed to get to his own inauguration.

Clinton responded diplomatically. She lauded Peru's progress and then apologized "for keeping him so late that he was behind in his schedule."

She left without taking questions.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company