Saturday, November 20, 2004

SANTIAGO, Chile — President Bush broke up a fight last night between his lead Secret Service agent and a Chilean security detail, pulling the agent through a wall of men trying to bar his bodyguard’s access to a state dinner.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrived at 8 p.m. local time yesterday at the Estacion Mapocho Cultural Center for the official dinner of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

After the first couple posed for photos with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and his wife, the four entered the doorway with a line of Chilean security guards and uniformed police closing quickly behind him.

The president’s lead agent approached the line of men as quickly as it closed and demanded to be allowed through. Within a few seconds, the confrontation began to escalate with voices being raised and shoving in all directions.

“You’re not stopping me! You’re not stopping me!” yelled the agent, as captured by several television cameras. “I’m with the president.”

During the fracas, another Secret Service agent was roughly pulled from the tumult and pushed against a concrete wall by Chilean security. A few seconds later, after posing for yet more pictures about 15 feet inside the doorway, Mr. Bush and the rest of the party turned to enter the dining room. But the president quickly turned his head to the growing din just outside.

Mr. Bush calmly turned right as the other three continued on and inserted himself into the fight. The president reached over two rows of Chilean security guards, grabbed his lead agent by the shoulder of his suit jacket and began to pull.

The tape of the incident, viewed by reporters last night, could not pick up any words the president might have been saying as he worked to get the agent through the line.

A few Chilean guards turned their heads and noticed that the arm draped over their shoulders was that of the president, and the line softened. Mr. Bush pulled his agent through, who was heard to say, “Get your hands off me” as he passed roughly through the doorway.

Mr. Bush then adjusted his shirt cuff and said something to the first dignitary he passed as a grin crossed his face.

According to Secret Service sources, the man Mr. Bush pulled through is a high-level agent and one of the president’s personal favorites. The president normally has two agents near him at all times, but the second agent on the detail was not immediately allowed through.

The second agent, who was nearly put in a headlock and pushed against the concrete wall, did not aggressively retaliate and was soon seen standing next to the presidential limousine. No punches were thrown.

The Secret Service source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the president’s security detail and that the Chileans had argued about security procedures all day and that he wasn’t surprised to see last night’s skirmish unfold.

The Chileans, he said, were determined to take charge of security, but the president of the United States is the only world leader who takes his bodyguards with him wherever he goes. Normally, foreign countries defer to that demand. The Chilean security detail resisted, the source said, and was determined to take a stand at the dinner.

“That’s what the argument this afternoon was about,” he said. “I saw this coming.”

Chilean security knew that the Secret Service always accompanies the president and knows how to identify them by the pins on their lapels, the source said, but blocked them anyway.

The White House downplayed the incident last night.

“Chilean security tried to stop the president’s Secret Service from accompanying him,” said White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan. “He told them they were with him, and the issue was resolved.”

This was not the only physical conflict at the summit yesterday. During the first photo opportunity between Mr. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Chinese photographers yelled and pushed their way to the front of a rope 12 feet away from the two leaders.

“Easy, easy,” Mr. Bush said.

Such photo ops are routine events to the regulars in the White House press corps. They quickly jockey for the prime positions for photos, but do not shove each other, and the bitter feelings over the incident lasted throughout the day.

A cameraman for CNN was knocked off his ladder but was not hurt, and a tall light stand was nearly knocked over toward the leaders as the shoving continued for about 10 seconds. After the shoving match in front of the Chinese president, Mr. Bush’s press handlers ushered in the press in smaller waves to avoid chaos.

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