Obama steering clear of economic summit

November 11, 2008 5:39:59 PM PST
World leaders hoping to meet President-elect Obama at an economic summit this weekend in Washington will be disappointed. Obama does not plan to be in the nation's capital or receive foreign visitors in Chicago over the weekend. He long ago ruled out attending the summit, saying the nation has only one president at a time, and it's still George W. Bush.

The president-elect has several reasons to avoid the scene, even though he has expressed strong interests in international affairs and leaders.

He could be accused of stealing scenes and acting presumptuous if he received world leaders at a Washington site while Bush makes one more stab at battling the global economic crisis. And the more closely he ties himself to that effort -- physically and philosophically -- the more he risks being associated with any new economic pain that arises in the next few weeks.

"He wants a clean, clear demarkation between the Bush administration and the Obama administration," said Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution public policy center.

Before the election, Bush announced that the world's 20 largest industrialized nations and emerging economies would meet in Washington this Saturday. Obama has consistently said not to expect his presence.

Obama assailed Bush throughout his campaign for pushing "failed policies," and he pledged to bring change after eight years of GOP rule. Under the best of circumstances, Obama will inherit the worst U.S. economic conditions since the Great Depression, and keeping some distance from Bush will help him chart his own course.

"The last thing he wants to do is get pulled into that summit and, more generally, be pulled into a situation where he's called upon to make early commitments and express opinions on matters before he's got his economic team fully together and before he has the authority of the office," Mann said.

Obama's aides plan to keep tabs on - and possibly participate in - the summit where world powers hope to craft remedies to the global financial crisis.

"We have one president at a time, and it's important that the president can speak for the United States at the summit," John Podesta, Obama's transition chief, told reporters Tuesday. Podesta, however, noted that Obama had urged such a summit during the presidential campaign.

Obama backs coordination among major economic powers to address the troubles. Campaigning last month in Richmond, Va., he said, "Our financial markets are so interwoven at this point, that we can't operate in isolation."

"I don't think it's going to be resolved in one meeting," he said of the global crisis.

Leaders attending the G-20 meeting are certainly interested in Obama's economic stance.

In phone calls last week, Obama accepted congratulations from leaders of countries including Canada, France, Italy, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Spain. The global financial crisis was among the topics he discussed with key U.S. allies.

The president-elect held his first news conference Friday after he and Vice President-elect Joe Biden met privately with economic advisers. Obama's message: "We are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime, and we're going to have to act swiftly to resolve it."

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found most people voicing confidence that Obama will be able to turn the sagging economy around when he takes office in January.


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