Bush just couldn’t catch a break at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
After thanking Prime Minister John Howard “for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit,” Bush went on to note Howard’s visit last year to the “Austrian troops” stationed in Iraq before trying to take the wrong off-stage exit.
But any embarrasment those slip-ups might have caused was quickly forgotten during a photo op with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who forced Bush into a tight spot with the following display of blunt diplomacy:
The tense moments with Roh came as the leaders each made statements to reporters after their meeting. Roh concluded his by questioning why Bush hadn’t mention the issue of the war’s end.
“I might be wrong. I think I did not hearmention a declaration to end the just now,” Roh said through an interpreter. “Did you say so, President Bush?”
“It’s up to,” Bush said.
Roh pressed on. “If you could be a little bit clearer,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the U.S. delegation and a look of annoyance from Bush.
“I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen whenverifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.”
The White House acted quickly to downplay the awkward exchange. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, said “there was clearly something lost in translation during the photo op.”
Yeah, like “tact.” But under the circumstances of the impromptu interrogation, I think Bush handled himself like a stateman should, keeping his cool even while one of his poker buddies kept trying to peek over his shoulder at his hand, and maybe even redeeming himself on a matter of substance from the earlier inconsequential gaffes.