WASHINGTON -- Al Gore has traveled the world to spread his message that climate change is creating a "planetary emergency."
But there was one place Gore could not take his crusade: the White House.
That changed yesterday when, in a curious twist, President Bush invited his one-time political rival to the Oval Office.
The occasion was an annual tradition, the presidential photo opportunity with Nobel Prize winners. But Gore, who shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the environment, was granted special treatment: a private tete-a-tete with the president, which lasted more than 30 minutes, provoking intense speculation about just what the two talked about.
"Of course, we talked about global warming - the whole time," Gore said afterward, as he and his wife, Tipper, emerged onto Pennsylvania Avenue, where they were mobbed by reporters and photographers.
No surprise there; Gore, whose documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Academy Award, is a staunch critic of the Bush administration's environmental policy. "He's constantly looking for opportunities to make an impact on this issue," said Michael Feldman, a Gore adviser, "so being invited to the political center of the universe is a great thing for him."
Gore, however, was unwilling to say how great a thing it was - or wasn't. As he and his wife, Tipper, walked a block and a half from the White House to a garage where their car was parked, the former vice president struggled to fend off questions about whether he missed the old place or was happy to be back.
"It was a private meeting, and I'm not going to say anything about it other than that it was very nice, very cordial," Al Gore said. "He was very gracious in setting up the meeting, and it was a very good and very substantive conversation. That's all."
Yesterday was the first time the two met privately since December 2000, when Bush, having been declared the winner of the 2000 election by the Supreme Court, visited Gore at the official vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory. Then, as now, Gore declared it a private discussion.
Aides say the two have had little contact in the years since, meeting only occasionally at public events like Bush's first inauguration and the dedication of President Bill Clinton's presidential library. Bush made no comment when the Nobel was announced, and yesterday, the two stood silently, and a bit awkwardly, during the photo opportunity.
But the president did personally telephone Gore to extend the invitation, and the White House changed the date of the event so Gore could attend. Bush's press secretary, Dana Perino, told reporters that there was no bad blood between them.
"This president does not harbor any resentments," Perino said. "He never has."