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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Bush and Putin 'best of buddies'
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W Bush meet in Crawford Texas
Real good buddies: Mr Putin and Mr Bush
By Rob Watson in Crawford, Texas

Just before President Vladimir Putin's arrival here on Wednesday, a large crowd had gathered in the dot on the Texas map known as Crawford.

They were there to catch a glimpse of the Russian's arrival.

Among them was a tall man with cowboy boots and hat, a real local.

Asked what he thought about the visit he paused for a second and then said he was "real excited" and that the two presidents "seemed like real good buddies".

Heart and soul

On Thursday as Presidents Putin and George W Bush swapped compliments at Crawford's - population 705 - only high school, the cowboy's assessment seemed right on the money.

I knew that President Putin was a man with whom I could work

George W Bush
Certainly they are an odd pairing, the former spy chief and the former baseball team owner. But they do seem to get along.

Using his famous Texan turn of phrase, the US President once again stressed the personal as the pupils looked on.

"The more I get to know President Putin" he said, "the more I get to see his heart and soul ...the more I know we can work together in a positive way".

Though the Russians are known for their soulfullness, President Putin is perhaps less gushing about his American counterpart.

There was no talk of souls from Mr Putin though he did describe Mr Bush as being "right from the heart of Texas", quite a compliment given the president was born in Connecticut.

Texas hospitality

All in all, the Russian leader appeared to enjoy his visit to Texas, despite the rain and Crawford's modest amenities.

On Wednesday night he'd been on the receiving end of some real Texas hospitality at the president's Prairie Chapel ranch.

Menu for Bush-Putin dinner
A proper Texas menu
On the menu mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin, southern fried catfish, followed by pecan pie and ice cream.

Though a teetotaller, President Bush toasted his guest, noting that in Texas "you only invite a good friend to your home".

In response Mr Putin replied the US was "fortunate at such a critical time in its history to have such a man of character at its helm".

But it wasn't all about the men.

In a nod of friendship to her hosts, Mr Putin's wife Lyudmilla appeared for dinner wearing a red, white and blue sequined blouse in a stars-and-stripes pattern.

They seemed more like a pair of suburban couples than the first couples of the world's two biggest nuclear powers, with Mrs Putin offering Mrs Bush a white rose upon her arrival in Texas.

Clinton criticism

There is of course some irony to it all.

The Russian and US first ladies meet as their husbands look on
Mrs Putin gave Mrs Bush a rose when they met
As a candidate, Mr Bush had strongly criticised his predecessor Bill Clinton for his close relationship with Boris Yeltsin.

The US should have a policy towards Russia the country, the Bush campaign argued, not its leaders.

But Mr Bush obviously enjoys his growing friendship with Mr Putin and sees it as an opportunity to improve relations between the US and Russia.

"The best diplomacy starts with getting to know each other," Mr Bush said, adding, "I knew that President Putin was a man with whom I could work to transform the relationship between our two countries."

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Americas
No Bush-Putin missile agreement
14 Nov 01 | Americas
Texas town: Howdy comrade
21 Oct 01 | Americas
Bush and Putin's promising chemistry
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