Bush Visits Former President Ford

President Bush paid a visit Sunday to the ailing former President Gerald Ford at his home in this resort town where Bush was spending the weekend.

Ford and his wife, Betty, were waiting with smiles outside their low-slung stucco home, which overlooks a golf course, as Bush's limousine pulled into the circular driveway. Bush gave Mrs. Ford a kiss on the cheek and had a handshake for the Republican former president.

Ford then linked his arm into Bush's and led him inside the home in a gated community near Palm Springs in the California desert.

The nearly hourlong visit, conducted out of public view and kept under wraps until the last minute, could be the last time Bush would see the oldest living former commander in chief. Ford, 92, was hospitalized with pneumonia for 12 days in January and has not been seen much in public of late.

After the meeting, Bush and Ford walked slowly out of the house holding hands. Ford was also leaning on a cane, and his wife trailed alongside.

"It's such an honor to be with President and Mrs. Ford," Bush said.

"You remember these characters, don't you?" he said, gesturing toward the waiting collection of news media.

"We solved all the problems, didn't we?" Ford said, smiling. Bush laughed and replied: "We sure did."

Ford thanked Bush for stopping by and wished him well.

On Friday, Ford released a statement defending Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld against calls for his ouster over his conduct of the Iraq war. Ford, who appointed Rumsfeld as his White House chief of staff and then chose him to be Defense secretary during his administration, said in a statement that Bush was right to keep Rumsfeld in his post.

Ford and his wife have lived in the home, not far from Bush's mountaintop luxury hotel, since leaving the White House in 1977.