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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Beautiful' Moscow Gets Lavish Praise From Bush

Even before seeing St. Petersburg, U.S. President George W. Bush seemed awed by Russia's imperial splendor. During Friday's talks in the Grand Kremlin Palace, he kept craning his neck to take it all in.

"It's beautiful, just beautiful," Bush said, while gazing at the gilded ceilings of St. Catherine Hall, where the delegations first met at 10 a.m. on Friday.

"It's beautiful, there are some of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen in my life here. Yes, it's so beautiful," he told tourists on Cathedral Square when he, Putin and their wives took a walk later in the day.

Bush also was impressed by Putin's spontaneous invitation to show him his office across the square. "That was a personal touch," Bush said the next day in St. Petersburg.

It was not clear whether National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, who wore a bright yellow suit with black trim, had consciously dressed in the colors of Russian imperial symbols. In any case, she fit in perfectly with St. Andrew's Hall, where the treaty was signed in the early afternoon.

Rice was the last to enter the hall, a former throne room, before the two presidents.

It was the first signing ceremony ever to be held in the hall, and Bush and Putin signed the arms reduction treaty under the watchful All-Seeing Eye of the Lord -- a traditional depiction of God sometimes mistakenly described as a Masonic symbol.

In 1934, the gilded decorations were stripped from St. Andrew's Hall and St. Alexander's Hall, a second throne room, which were joined into one austere space and used for sessions of the mock Soviet parliament, the Supreme Soviet. But in the late 1990s, they were restored to their imperial glory in a reconstruction project that earned UNESCO recognition but led to criminal charges in Switzerland against former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, who was accused of taking huge kickbacks in awarding contracts to two Swiss construction firms.

Journalists, who filled the hall behind the first couple of rows occupied by the delegations, had little or no opportunity to ask questions when the presidents rose to speak.

But in contrast to usual Kremlin procedure, journalists were allowed to keep their mobile phones, presumably so they would be able to spread the good news of the treaty without delay.