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Another prison issue sneaks up on Bush

President George W. Bush got an earful about closing the detainee center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, when he met European Union leaders in Vienna. But when Bush ascended the red-carpeted steps of the Parliament building here to see the Hungarian prime minister, a different prison was on the agenda. The prison - actually a former prison - is Hungary's version of the Bastille. Hungarians call it the Táncsics Prison, named after a luminary of the 1848 revolution, Mihály Táncsics, who was accused of sedition and held captive by the Hapsburgs, but set free when partisans stormed the place. Americans know it by another name: Marine House. Hungary had to give the Baroque building to the United States after World War II as war reparation, and it has been used ever since for ceremonies and as a barracks for the marines who guard the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. But the Hungarians want it back. So with negotiations over the prison continuing, the Hungarian prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, cornered Bush during their brief appearance before the Hungarian and U.S. news media. "Within a couple of months," the prime minister announced, the Táncsics prison will finally return to Hungarian ownership. "Let me tell you quite frankly," he added, "that the president showed much more understanding for the importance and the meaning of this issue. ”And just within this circle I can say that he promised, and if he did that, it will happen." Bush's face reddened, and he shook his head, looked down and laughed, a laugh that made some wonder just what promise had been made.

Close students of U.S. politics - and even those not so close - may have noticed something familiar about the name of the U.S. ambassador to Hungary: George Herbert Walker 3rd. A quick scan of the ambassador's official biography, which recounts his extensive career in business (chairman emeritus of Stifel Financial Corp., former member of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange) yielded a clue: "He also served on the vestry of St. Ann's Church in Kennebunkport, Maine." Walker, who goes by the nickname Bert, is a first cousin of George Herbert Walker Bush, more commonly referred to in Washington as the first President Bush, or 41. The ambassador's father and the former president's mother were brother and sister. So while this President Bush officially came to Budapest for the 50th anniversary of the unsuccessful 1956 revolt against Hungary's Communist government, the trip was also a bit of a family reunion - albeit a seemingly stealthy one. Walker, naturally, was on hand from beginning to end of the president's visit. He greeted Bush when Air Force One touched down, sat by the president's side when Bush joined Gyurcsány and could be spotted mingling about during an elegant social lunch at Parliament in Bush's honor. (IHT, NYT)