Thursday, November 15, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas When the White House announced yesterday that the entree for President Bush’s dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin would be mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin, a reporter cracked: “Shouldn’t there be a vegetarian option?”
Before White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer could answer, a second wag from the press corps deadpanned: “That is the vegetarian option.”
There was nothing highfalutin about the menu when Mr. Putin broke bread for the first time at Mr. Bush’s 1,600-acre Texas spread, known as Prairie Chapel Ranch. There was Southern fried catfish, old-fashioned green beans, “Texas onion-butter cornbread muffins,” pecan pie and Blue Bell ice cream.
The presidents and their wives, along with 27 friends and officials from both governments, dined in the screened-in breezeway of Mr. Bush’s modest house as a steady rain fell outside.
“The president brought rain, for which we’re always grateful in the state of Texas,” Mr. Bush said as the Putins arrived in Texas. “There is no better gift than rain.”
But the rain prevented Mr. Bush from giving Mr. Putin a personal tour of his beloved ranch. The two leaders will attempt the tour again today.
Mr. Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, arrived by helicopter at the ranch. Mrs. Putin gave Mrs. Bush a yellow rose.
The two presidents held umbrellas for their wives as the foursome walked to an oversized white pickup truck. Mr. Bush, who is normally driven everywhere, commandeered the steering wheel while Mr. Putin rode “shotgun” and the wives chatted in the back seat with the help of a translator.
“I still know how to drive,” Mr. Bush joked to reporters before warning them to move back from the vehicle.
The dinner guests were serenaded by the Ranch Hands Band, a country western swing combo from Austin that was asked to perform by Mrs. Bush. Her husband, not known as a particularly graceful dancer, was asked by a reporter if he would show Mr. Putin some Texas dance steps.
“I can cut a pretty mean rug,” the president joked.
When Mr. Putin first learned he would be visiting a Texas ranch, he had visions of riding horses as herds of cattle roamed the property. Mr. Bush explained that his is a residential ranch, not a working ranch.
“We’re going to be riding John Deere Gators,” said the president, referring to the golf cart-like vehicles that are the preferred mode of transportation on the ranch. “They’re a little more compassionate than some horses.”
During a speech at Houston earlier in the day, Mr. Putin spoke glowingly of the “romantic magnetism” of “the Lone Star State.”

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