Obama, Bush discuss world of challenges
AFP - Tuesday, November 11
WASHINGTON (AFP) - - US president-elect Barack Obama, on his way to his historic January 20 swearing-in, held his first face-to-face talks with President George W. Bush Monday and came away impressed with the Oval Office.
Obama -- who routed the incumbent's fellow Republican and chosen successor John McCain in the November 4 election -- met privately with Bush for about an hour in the chamber from which the US president makes world-shaping decisions.
Obama and wife Michelle Obama arrived about 10 minutes early for their two-hour visit and were warmly welcomed by the president and First Lady Laura Bush at the South Portico, a gateway to the mansion for many world leaders.
As their wives took a tour of the 132-room White House's residential areas, the 43rd president and his successor strolled along the Rose Garden and into the Oval Office. It was Obama's first ever visit to the storied seat of power.
Bush guided Obama into the room for private talks 71 days before the Democrat formally becomes the first black US president and inherits two wars and a global economic crisis that some compare to the Great Depression.
Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president-elect, who has a keen sense of history, was impressed with his first-ever visit to the Oval Office.
"What he said to me is it's a really nice office," said Gibbs, who said the two men met alone without notetakers then joined their wives to tour the residential quarters.
Obama "found the president to be extremely gracious with his time and with his invitation," said Gibbs.
Bush and Obama discussed the proposed economic stimulus package, the difficulties of the auto industry, housing foreclosures and foreign policy issues, said Gibbs, giving no further details on the talks.
Before Obama left the White House, the two men returned to the Oval Office, Gibbs said, and put the politics of the campaign -- where the Democrat lashed Bush repeatedly -- in the past.
Gibbs also confirmed that Obama would not meet with foreign leaders arriving for the Saturday summit on the global financial crisis, though there was a "possibility" that people affiliated with the Obama team might.
Bush described the talks as "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"They spoke about both domestic and international issues, though since it was a private meeting the White House will decline to comment on specifics."
Bush also showed Obama the living quarters at the White House, including the office the president uses, the famed Lincoln Bedroom, and the rooms for Obama's two young daughters, said Perino.
"The president enjoyed his visit with the president-elect, and he again pledged a smooth transition to the next administration," said the spokeswoman.
Obama for his part thanked Bush "for his commitment to a smooth transition and for his and First Lady Laura Bush's gracious hospitality in welcoming the Obamas to the White House," said transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.
The "productive and friendly" talks focused on efforts to ensure a smooth transition given the economic and national security challenges at hand, she said in a statement.
Laura Bush showed Michelle Obama around the residential section and talked about raising children in the White House, with the First Lady sharing her experience with twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, said Cutter.
Obama's young girls, Sasha, 7 and Malia, 10, will be the youngest children living in the presidential mansion in a generation.
The Obamas flew in from their hometown of Chicago for the rite of passage, a symbolic step in the first US presidential transition since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and flew back shortly after.
With Bush and Laura Bush standing outside on the sunny but chilly day, Obama's armored limousine pulled up and the 44th president got out first, then helped Michelle Obama, who was wearing a bright red dress, out of the vehicle.
The carefully choreographed political truce came as Obama's advisers pored over eight years of Bush decisions with an eye on reversing course, including on curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and moves to open new lands to oil drilling.
The Monday meeting came sooner after the election than usual, and far earlier than Bush's own similar talks with then-president Bill Clinton, which had to await a Supreme Court ruling that ended the botched 2000 election.
Gibbs said that there were no plans from the president elect to announce cabinet selections this week, though some White House staff appointments may be released.
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