SYDNEY Even for someone as gaffe-prone as U.S. President George W. Bush, he was in rare form on Friday, confusing APEC with OPEC and transforming Australian troops into Austrians.
Bush's tongue started slipping almost as soon as he started talking at a business forum on the eve of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney.
"Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction," he told Prime Minister John Howard. "Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit."
As the audience of several hundred people erupted in laughter, Bush corrected himself and joked, "He invited me to the OPEC summit next year." Australia has never been a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Later in his speech, Bush recounted how Howard had gone to visit "Austrian troops" last year in Iraq. There are, in fact, no Austrian troops there. But Australia has about 1,500 Australian military personnel in and around the country.
Upon finishing his speech, Bush took the wrong way off-stage and, looking slightly perplexed, had to be re-directed by Howard to a centre-stage exit.
But not before a veteran White House correspondent seized the opportunity to ask Bush whether there had been any new message in his speech. Apparently misunderstanding the question, he bristled and asked, "Haven't you been listening to my past speeches?" before turning away.
Bush is no stranger to the occasional faux pas, and often jokes about his habit of mangling the English language.
One of his highest-profile gaffes came in May when, at a welcoming ceremony for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, he nearly placed her in the 18th century.
Then there was the famous incident at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in 2006 when Bush, unaware he was on camera, greeted British Prime Minister Tony Blair with the words "Yo Blair."
Bush's sometimes muddled syntax and mispronunciation of words like nuclear ("nukular") have long been fodder for late-night TV comedians. But aides say his folksy style has helped endear him to Middle America.