WASHINGTON — With an in-flight airing of Elvis Presley's greatest hits and an offering of his favored fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, President Bush brought Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi south Friday to see Graceland.
DVDs of Elvis's movies were available aboard Air Force One, and White House press secretary Tony Snow sported gold-rimmed plastic sunglasses for the flight to Memphis, unarguably Koizumi's highlight of the week.
The Bush-Koizumi tour through the late rock 'n' roll legend's mansion was wrapping up two days of consultations. His visit saw military pomp, the tinkling of crystal at a black-tie dinner and two hours of discussions on Iraq, North Korea, U.S. beef exports and other weighty matters in the Oval Office.
But their outing to the home of Koizumi's undisputed musical hero, with its oddity quotient and celebrity patina, was the most-anticipated portion.
A departure for the president
Swiveling hips, spangled jumpsuits and over-the-top decor aren't Bush's usual style. And this is a president who routinely skips even the most awe-inspiring destinations on his speed-travels - such as India's Taj Mahal.
So it's a sign of his fondness for the Japanese leader that Bush took Koizumi to a tourist hotspot, and by plane, no less, five years to the day after they first met. Aides said the president decided a Graceland tour was the perfect way, along with a gift of a jukebox loaded with Elvis hits, to bid adieu to a leader who is departing office in September after being one of his most ardent defenders on the world stage.
Bush revealed his excitement about the day's travels as he drew the formal dinner he threw for Koizumi at the White House to a close at 10:10 p.m. Thursday night. "Off to Graceland," the president said.
Things got campy right off as the leaders flew to Memphis Friday morning on Air Force One.
The public address system played "Love Me Tender" and "Don't Be Cruel" and other Elvis songs and Air Force stewards brought out that Elvis culinary favorite — grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, each with 36 grams of fat. The two leaders passed on the sandwiches. Bush drank coffee and Koizumi drank green tea.
"I'm feeling a little heavy," groaned White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, one of the few presidential aides who braved the breakfast treat. "I so rarely fry my peanut butter sandwiches."
Snow did his best to fuel lingering conspiracy theories that Elvis never died, saying that Bush and Koizumi were likely to go to Elvis' "alleged grave site." In fact, Graceland spokesman David Beckwith said the "meditation garden" near the swimming pool where Elvis is buried was the chosen place for the two allies to have some "private time."
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Some history of president-guest travel
The trip to an outside-the-Beltway locale recalls state visits earlier in Bush's presidency.
In 2001, Bush took Mexican President Vicente Fox to Toledo, Ohio, where the two addressed Hispanic voters the day after their state visit at the White House.
The next year, then-Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski also saw his state visit capped with an out-of-town journey. He accompanied Bush to a Polish cultural center in the Detroit suburbs for traditional fare and an audience with the area's large Polish-American — and heavily Roman Catholic — community.
The trips with Fox and Kwasniewski served Bush's domestic politics as well as global concerns. They were aimed at helping the president with key U.S. voting constituencies in battleground states even while the ride on Air Force One and close-up look at American life wowed his guests.
Bush has always favored a more casual brand of diplomacy, holding fewer lavish state dinners than his predecessors and looking for personal touches whenever he can.
For instance, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, like Bush an avid bike rider, was treated to a two-wheel jaunt around the Camp David presidential retreat earlier this month.
Koizumi's treatment goes several steps further, making a visit to the president's Texas ranch no longer the premier reward for a foreign friend.
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