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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 20:57 GMT
Tour diary: Bush in Europe
US President George W Bush is in Europe attempting to rebuild relationships strained by the war in Iraq. BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb is travelling with the president. Here is his diary from the fourth day of the visit.

24 February

Forgiving Putin

Gotta rush. They move fast at the White House when the fat lady has sung, and sung she has for this trip. Wheels will soon be up.

The Bush-Putin meeting has left everyone here scratching their heads.

Was Bush deceived? Was Putin pulled gently back into line?

Some journalists are asking whether some Russian questions at the news conference about American democracy were planted by the Kremlin to get the US president on the defensive.

There is a rumour that Putin was heard saying to Bush afterwards, words to the effect of: "Did I say what you wanted?"

The American briefing afterwards was calm and measured, but they cannot really suggest that on big issues - Iran for instance, or North Korea, or Chechnya, or Russian Democracy, or Yukos and the liberalisation of the Russian oil business - any concrete progress was made.

The part of the press conference that struck me was the section on terrorism.

President Bush told of his fellow feeling for a leader of a large nation which had been attacked and whose people had suffered.

The president is a man of gut feelings: His gut feelings on Putin are such that he can forgive him almost anything because he knows what he has been through and knows too how supportive he was after 9/11.

Ten hours back to Washington and I shall be finishing Natan Sharansky's book on Freedom and Democracy, which captivated the imagination of this president.

Unless there are any good films...

Freedom on the march

The Bush speech was a bit limp - not because of the President, who I thought looked less tired and more engaged now that he's away from the suits at the EU - but because most Slovaks speak no English.

So although they braved the snow to come and see him they had to wait for the translation before knowing which lines to applaud. It was all a bit disjointed.

Made a big error of judgement this morning - leaving the warm embrace of the White House team to cross this snow covered city to get to a studio for an interview with the Today programme on Radio Four.

All went fine till I tried to get back. I have seven passes (no really!) all with photos and official inscriptions. But none of them impress riot police schooled in the eastern European approach to public relations. "No," they say. "You go. You no come here today."

I smile. I try to look important and official. Nothing works. Briefly I imagine being trapped here forever among the stony faced denizens of Bratislava (I have no passport: the White House whips them away on these trips and whisks you in and out of nations without need of it).

Then a miracle. The secret service agent with whom I had been discussing hamburgers in Brussels passes by on the other side of the barricade. "Help," I shout!

A small man in a sensible grey suit, he approaches the goons and says, "US Secret Service: I need him in here."

They briefly consider clubbing us both to death there and then. Old habits die hard even when you've joined Nato.

But my man in the grey suit is backed up by the greatest power ever seen on the face of the Earth: his identity card carries a menace which every security guard in every godforsaken corner of the globe understands and appreciates.

If you are going to be an ally of America, you must let the secret service through roadblocks with whomsoever they choose to travel.

And they did. Freedom is on the march.




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