President Bush was caught on an open microphone talking with other leaders at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg as they ate lunch before adjourning on Monday. At times the television camera was on Bush, at times it was panning the room. Some of the exchange was hard to hear over the clinking of plates and pouring of drinks. Here's a transcript by The Washington Post:
Someone, probably an aide, asks Bush something, evidently whether he wants prepared closing remarks for the end of the summit:
Bush: No. Just gonna make it up. I'm not going to talk too damn long like the rest of them. Some of these guys talk too long.
The camera is focused elsewhere and it is not clear whom Bush is talking to, but possibly Chinese President Hu Jintao, a guest at the summit.
Bush : Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?
Bush : This is your neighborhood. It doesn't take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?
Reply is inaudible.
Bush : "Eight hours? Me too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country."
At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.
Bush : It takes him eight hours to fly home.
He turns his attention to a server.
Bush : No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke.
He turns back to whomever he was talking with.
Bush : It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia's big and so is China.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair approaches.
Bush : Blair, what are you doing? You leaving?
Blair : No, no, no, not yet.
Blair, standing over Bush as the president eats, tries to engage on the stalled global trade negotiations.
Blair : On this trade thing . . .
Some of the ensuing conversation is inaudible. Blair evidently wants Bush to make a statement on the talks.
Bush : If you want me to. I just want some movement. Yesterday, I didn't see much movement. The desire's to move.
Blair : No, no there's not. It may be that it's impossible.
Bush : I'll be glad to say it. Who's introducing me?
Blair : Angela. [German Chancellor Angela Merkel ]
Bush : Tell her to call on me. Tell her to put me on the spot.
Bush then changes the subject, presumably to a gift Blair must have given him for his recent 60th birthday.
Bush : Thanks for the sweater. Awfully thoughtful of you. I know you picked it out yourself.
Blair : Oh, absolutely.
Both of them laugh. Then Bush turns serious, asking Blair about comments apparently made about the Middle East crisis by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, another guest at the summit.
Bush : What about Kofi? That seems odd. I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically ceasefire and [then] everything else happens. You know what I'm saying?
Blair : Yeah. No, I think -- the thing that's really difficult is we can't stop this unless you get this international presence agreed. Now, I know what you guys have talked about but it's the same thing.
The next remarks are i naudible, but the conversation turns to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Blair : . . . see how reliable that is. But you need that done quickly.
Bush : Yeah, she's going. I think Condi's going to go pretty soon.
Blair : Right. Well, that's, that's, that's all that matters. If you -- see, it'll take some time to get out there. But at least it gives people a --
Bush : A process, I agree. I told her your offer too.
It's unclear what offer he means, but apparently Blair offered to make some sort of public statement.
Blair : Well, it's only if it's -- I mean, you know, if she's gotta -- or if she needs the ground prepared, as it were. Obviously, if she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can just go out and talk.
Bush : See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over.
Blair : Who, Syria?
Bush : Right.
Blair : I think this is all part of the same thing. What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he's [inaudible ] . That's what this whole thing's about. It's the same with Iran.
Bush : I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel. We're not blaming the Lebanese government."
At this point, Blair notices the microphone and turns it off.
Point One (not actually my point): Most conversations would sound equally stupid if they were written down. Certainly most of mine.
Point Two: If I had to sit around a table and be polite to someone like Hu Jintao, whose government is cheerfully dissecting living Falun Gong practitioners for their organs, I would probably also drift into meaningless small talk that made me sound dumber than paint.
Point Three: Bush’s comments about the Middle East situation are obviously not intended to be written down, but they are not the comments of someone who has not done their homework. They display a good understanding of the facts on the ground (in so far as they can be interpreted).
(a) An immediate ceasefire leaving Hezbollah intact would indeed be a bad thing- primarily for the sort of reasons Marco was talking about in his comment, that such an outcome would ensure an unstable Lebanon with poor economic growth and poor prospects for democracy. The only exception could be if the immediate ceasefire was immediately followed by a muscular international presence with strong rules of engagement and a clearly defined role. This seems to be what Bush and Blair are talking about.
(b) Syria could indeed stop Hezbollah, and if Hezbollah stops, Israel has said they will stop, so we can predict that they would probably stop. Iran could probably also stop Hezbollah, but Syria is much more susceptible to international pressure. Nobody else is in any position to put pressure on Hezbollah, except by dropping bombs on them.
Point Four (again, not mine, but very pertinent): They are doing pretty clever things with paint nowadays. Some of it probably is smarter than me already.