TOYAKO, Japan (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday kept up his tradition of informal relations with fellow world leaders by summoning Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a brusque “Yo Harper!”
Bush and Harper, a rather stiff and shy figure, are in northern Japan for a summit of leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialized countries.
Television footage of a G8 lunch with African leaders showed Bush talking to Nigerian President Umaru Yar‘Adua and saying “Yo Harper! The president of Nigeria.”
At a G8 summit in 2006, Bush landed ally Tony Blair in some trouble by calling out “Yo Blair!”
Critics said the greeting showed what they described as the unequal nature of Bush’s relationship with Blair, then the British prime minister.
And at the same summit, Bush shocked German chancellor Angela Merkel by briefly massaging her back as he walked behind her chair.
Harper’s ties with Bush are sensitive, since critics of Canada’s right-wing Conservative government regularly accuse it of taking orders from Washington.
It was not the first time that Bush has surprised Harper in public. In July 2006, after the two men met at the White House for the first time, Bush publicly called the Canadian “Steve.”
Analysts said at the time this might actually help Harper dispel questions about the closeness of his relationship with Bush, since no one who even slightly knew the somewhat wooden Canadian leader would ever think of him as “Steve.”
Bush has since referred to Harper in public as “Stephen.”
Asked for a reaction to the “Yo Harper!” comment, Harper’s spokeswoman said she had not been at the lunch.
Reporting by David Ljunggren, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall