They walked together along the path winding between orange trees laden with fruit, bronze statues and ancient stones, their pace measured as they were absorbed in conversation. Their voices could not be heard, only the birds chirping in the garden, but the two men in dark suits exuded friendliness.
Then, at the right spot, the Israeli president paused to point out a rare rose bush blooming in his garden, an American Beauty. After another moment the host stopped again, beside an ancient stone brought here from the Hulda Gates excavations. As he expanded on it, his guest nodded and smiled.
That completed Stage 7 of 15 in the ultra-planned visit to Shimon Peres' residence, which the schedule described as: "The two presidents will converse while taking a walk on the lawns of the President's Residence."
Getting through all 15 stages took more than an hour, because unlike an Ashkelon shopping center, for example, nothing here was left to chance or malice: The official car entered the plaza, 24 Israel Navy soldiers received the presidents at the red carpet, the presidents crossed the garden and sat on the patio. Their entourages departed. Cut.
But hours earlier, maintenance people slaved to enable this display of deep and sincere friendship between the American superpower and "its strongest ally and friend in the Middle East, the only real democracy," as Bush told Peres in Stage 10.
Forty-five minutes before the event was set to begin, a President's Residence worker found a small spot on one of the dozens of American flags flown in the garden, and rushed to replace it.
American Secret Service people brought their own water, and even did the pouring.
The presidents were not alone. They sat on the patio with the Israeli and American teams, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not attend, and was not mentioned during the meeting, a Peres source said afterward, even in the part that was closed to the media.
"I want to thank you for giving me a chance to come and meet you again. You're looking well. I hope you feel well," President George W. Bush said. Peres was overwhelmed by "your understanding, your support," and Bush returned the favor: "You're a wise soul," he told his host.
While the two exchanged pleasantries in front of the cameras, the American drivers did not waste time in the parking lot. One took a soft brush, another grabbed a rag, and they polished over and over the black Cadillac limousines.
They waited for the visit to end, but then the journalists surprised Bush with a chorus of congratulations on his daughter Jenna's nuptials. Flattered, Bush deviated from the schedule: In Stage 16 he faced the cameras along with the reporters, smiling from ear to ear.
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