Olmert’s Washington detour

November 25, 2008

What does an Israeli prime minister with some time on his hands — and a term about to end — do before he visits the White House for a farewell talk with President George W. Bush?

The same thing that a journalist who flew on his plane to Washington does: tour the capital’s Newseum, a museum dedicated to journalism.
    

Situated off Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and Capitol, the museum’s terrace offers a stunning view of Washington’s historic sites — and that’s where, along with a colleague from the French news agency, I ran into Ehud Olmert and his security guards.
    

“What are you doing here,” the head of Olmert’s Israeli security detail asked us, probably wondering who could have leaked the prime minister’s unannounced visit.
    

Simply a coincidence, we replied.

Then in a heavily-guarded, unguarded moment, a visibly puzzled Olmert stopped to chat as a phalanx of U.S. Secret Service and Israeli agents peered at us — two of the five journalists who made the trip with him to Washington.

That’s a far cry from the dozen or so reporters who used to accompany the Israeli leader to the U.S. capital before Olmert and Bush became lame ducks.

(Olmert resigned in September in a corruption scandal but remains prime minister until a new government is formed after Israel’s Feb. 10 parliamentary election.)

“Why did you come all this way?” Olmert asked me. “To cover Bush?”

“Sir,” I replied. “You are the prime minister of Israel and it’s my job to report about you.”

Olmert smiled, patted me on the shoulder, wished me well and continued his tour.

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