Can Barbecue Diplomacy Shape World History?

The issues discussed at a chummy press briefing on Saturday proved to be far more bilaterally convivial, including a promise from Bush for a speedy conclusion to negotiations for a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

But that, experts say, need not necessarily mean the contentious peacekeeping issue was stripped off the radar in the latest round of ranch diplomacy.

"I think they also have parallel and follow-up meetings between preliminaries and staff," says Princeton Lyman of the Washington-based Aspen Institute and former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. "It may not come up in a one-on-one, but with Condoleezza Rice and others down there, there's no question there will be detailed follow-up meetings."

War, Peace and Dangerous In-Betweens

Deep in the heart of Texas, inevitably buoyed up by a hearty (if haute) barbecue, a select few world leaders over the past several years have engaged in a brand of personal diplomacy — call it barbecue diplomacy — that has the capacity to shape the forces of history.

In a world divided by often conflicting interests, ideologies and geopolitical goals, personal chemistries between statesmen — or the lack thereof — can sometimes make the difference between peace, war and dangerous impasses.

And sometimes, a physical and mental distance from the crush of national capitals, ringing telephones, prying journalists and demanding staffs have pressed arch enemies to acts of supreme statesmanship.

It was in the idyllic Catoctin Mountains of Maryland that President Jimmy Carter got Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to sign the landmark Camp David accord with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978.

More than a decade later, the tranquility of the Nordic countryside — coupled with the quiet diplomacy of Norwegian officials — paved the way for the Oslo accords and the subsequent historic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993.

Personal Chemistry or Ideological Affinity?

But there is also a danger, some experts say, in investing too much import on personal relations between world leaders.

"Personal relations cannot always overcome serious differences," says Lyman. "It does not substitute for work on real problems and there is a danger in elevating expectations to the level where, if the work does not get done, there are disappointments."

More than a year after Putin's high-profile Crawford visit, when the former spy chief was seen enjoying a peppered tenderloin while a band struck up the strains of Cotton Eyed Joe, the impasse over the ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) treaty has not been resolved.

Just weeks after Putin and Bush put up displays of congeniality at the Crawford High School that wags likened to a Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin routine, the United States announced its withdrawal from the ABM treaty and its intention to build its own missile defense system despite strong objections from Moscow.

Washington also continues to support the eastward expansion of NATO into Russia's back yard.

And in the Bush administration's latest litmus test of friendship, support for the war in Iraq, Russia proved to be not much of a friend in deed, with Moscow providing key support for France's pledge to veto a second U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this year.

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