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Bush makes amigos

(USA TODAY)/QUEBEC -- President Bush, making his debut on the international stage at the Summit of the Americas, displayed a casual style that could be described as 'amigo diplomacy.'

He addressed many of the 33 leaders here as "amigo," Spanish for "friend," including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who speaks English and French but not Spanish. Bush showed off his linguistic ability by punctuating speeches with Spanish phrases. "Juntos podemos. Juntos lo haremos," he said Saturday. ("Together we can. Together we will do it.")

In a way, the get-together was like Bush's Yale University days, when he was known for an unassuming, eager-to-get-acquainted manner that won him instant friends. Of course, the presidential fraternity is more exclusive than Delta Kappa Epsilon, but as in his youth, Bush was not just a member in good standing but seemed to be the most popular guy in the crowd.

"A lot of the leaders wanted to ask him questions," Chretien said.

"I listened a lot. I learned a lot," Bush said Sunday.

Bush was informal in his dealings with his peers, only seven of whom he had met before the summit. He draped his arm across presidents' shoulders as they chatted. Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, the only female head of state here, pushed forward until she was next to Bush and put her arm around his waist at a photo session Saturday. He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a reciprocal hug.

Bush's inexperience in foreign affairs had prompted a lot of debate about how he well he would do. There were memories of the campaign, when he flunked a foreign policy quiz in a TV interview, called Greeks "Grecians" and confused Slovenia with Slovakia.

When the summit was over, his aides said they thought he had demonstrated that he could hold his own among the world leaders. But there were a couple of minor missteps. After one event, Chretien told reporters that he and Bush wouldn't be taking any questions. Bush added helpfully, "Neither in French nor in English nor in Mexican." Even in Mexico, most people call the language Spanish.

Michel Vastel, a columnist for Le Soleil , a Quebec newspaper, reported Sunday that South American leaders were "shocked" when Bush drank water straight from a plastic bottle at one meeting, rather than from the crystal glass in front of him. Vastel also criticized first lady Laura Bush's dresses as "too tight."

Bush caused some consternation among some Canadians when he revisited the rivalry between their nation and Mexico. He announced that Mexican President Vicente Fox, an old friend from their days as neighboring governors, would be the guest of honor at his first state dinner in September. Canada was miffed when Bush made Mexico his destination for his first foreign trip in February.

Chretien was, well, diplomatic when reporters asked him whether he felt slighted. "Really, I had a few state dinners in my life," he said. "They usually serve very good food. . . . Good for Mr. Fox if he has a state dinner with Mr. Bush. I had one before. I might be invited for another one, but it's not a big preoccupation for me."

Fox is clearly the leader Bush knows and likes best. After they met privately Saturday, they shared a limo ride to the next event. Bush also seems to be building a bond with Brazil's president, Fernando Cardoso. Bush had phoned Cardoso to ask his advice during the impasse with China over the detention of 24 U.S. military personnel.

Bush also seemed to hit it off with El Salvadorean President Francisco Perez, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Escobar and Argentine President Fernando de la Rua. At a news conference Sunday, Bush called Perez "a very bright light" and "a breath of fresh air." Bush, Lagos Escobar and de la Rua, deep in conversation, strolled together to participate in a group photo of all the leaders Saturday.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana, like Bush, is the son of a former president. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is an avid baseball player who frequently quotes from the Bible. Bush is an avid baseball fan who reads the Bible daily.

There was evidence that Bush's pet peeves might be affecting global etiquette. The sounds of ringing cellphones and beeping pagers annoys him greatly. Before Saturday's dinner, an announcer told the crowd, "We remind you to turn off your cellular phones and pagers."

(c) 2001 USA TODAY

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