- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

ROME — President Bush, determined not to upstage the funeral of Pope John Paul II, kept an unusually low profile in Rome yesterday, although former President Bill Clinton gave a television interview watched by millions.

“He recognizes the significance of the moment,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Mr. Bush. “And the focus rightly should be on the Holy Father.”

Mr. Bush became the first president in years to conduct a full day’s schedule on foreign soil without allowing a single press question, photograph or even fleeting image on videotape. His father, the first President Bush, also refrained from interviews.

“But President Clinton gave an interview to Brian Williams,” said Mr. McClellan, referring to the “NBC Nightly News” anchorman.

It was the second day in a row that Mr. Clinton made headlines as he accompanied the Bushes on a three-day visit to Rome for the pope’s funeral. On Wednesday, Mr. Clinton angered some conservatives by remarking aboard Air Force One that the pope “may have a mixed legacy.”

Normally, reporters are allowed to witness a portion of a president’s meetings with foreign leaders.

But yesterday, the White House refused to allow reporters or photographers to glimpse any portion of President Bush’s meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italian President Carlo Ciampi and 20 American cardinals, archbishops and bishops.

“This is a time of mourning and it’s also a time to celebrate the life of a great moral leader, and that’s the reason we are here in Rome,” Mr. McClellan said. “The purpose of the trip is to be here for the funeral of John Paul II.”

He added that Mr. Bush “recognizes that this is a time to pay tribute to and honor the Holy Father and all that he stood for.”

Photographers and TV news crews accompanying Mr. Bush said they could not remember another foreign trip during which they were unable to capture an image of a president at least walking through a doorway.

The White House promised to issue a couple of photos taken by in-house photographers, although some news agencies are reluctant to publish such photos.

While Mr. Bush stayed out of sight during a dinner with Mr. Berlusconi, photographers were able to watch Mr. Clinton stroll through an elaborate formal garden before the dinner at Villa Madama, a stunning hilltop estate overlooking Rome.

Although the president steered clear of the press, Mr. McClellan answered a few questions from reporters on the substance of Mr. Bush’s meetings.

The spokesman said the president and Mr. Berlusconi discussed last month’s accidental killing by U.S. troops of an Italian intelligence officer who was rescuing an Italian journalist in Iraq.

“Prime Minister Berlusconi wanted to talk about it and the president welcomed the discussion,” Mr. McClellan said. “The president reiterated our regret over the incident.”

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