The comic turn forgets his lines in a Texas double act

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The Independent US

The choice of attire did not give out the most promising signal when the time came to send out a unified message.

The President wore jeans, cowboy boots and a rancher's jacket; the Prime Minister was in a dark suit and tie black enough to make Peter Sissons blush burgundy.

With the Queen Mother's lying-in-state ceremony still continuing on the other side of the Atlantic, Tony Blair was treading a tricky diplomatic path. Luckily for him, the torrential Texas rain intervened and put a damper on any too-public show of enjoyment.

Thoughts of eating out around the barbecue with the President's favourite bluegrass band playing country and western tunes in the background were quickly shelved. Instead, the two families – Mr Blair was accompanied by Cherie, daughter Kathryn, 14, and baby son Leo at the Prairie Chapel ranch after a week's holiday in Miami – ate indoors.

On the menu was pecan-smoked beef with roasted tricolour peppers and asparagus, followed by pineapple upside-down cake. The wine choices – a Gary Farrell Westside Chardonnay and a Duckhorn Estate Merlot 1997 – owed more to Islington than the American Bible belt, where many of the towns are dry.

When it came to the politics, Mr Bush, who can come across on television as purposeful and resolute with his teeth-sucking and long pauses, seems in reality to be struggling to remember his lines. And, later, the sombrely dressed Mr Blair had to restrain the cowboy President.

In vintage folksy language Mr Bush described how Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on the people "in his own neighbourhood" before calling for the removal of the Iraqi leader. When it was pointed out that this might be seen as a new move, to include assassination, he looked across at Mr Blair, who visibly winced. Mr Bush said: "Maybe I should be a little less direct and a little more nuanced – and say we support regime change."

Of Mr Blair, he added: "The Prime Minister is more nuanced." Alastair Campbell roared with laughter. The White House advisers stared at their feet, knowing that "regime change" was the diplo-speak phrase Mr Blair would be using in his speech last night.

When the two leaders last met on US soil, at Mr Bush's spartan log cabins at Camp David, it was much the same double act, with a clearly nervous Mr Blair acting as straight man to Dubya's relaxed comic turn. Unfortunately for the dastardly President Saddam, this particular Cannon and Ball partnership comes armed with much more than cannonballs.

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