Obama Keeps Distance From G20 Financial Summit
President-elect Barack Obama is steering clear of this weekend's emergency global financial summit in Washington, a decision that gives him distance from his unpopular predecessor's policies and avoids any appearance of upstaging the current president.
"He wants to start with a clean slate," said Ross Baker, a political analyst at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Baker said Obama appears sensitive to propriety and does not want to look as though he is setting policy when "he has not yet had his hand on the Bible" to take the oath of office.
President George W. Bush had been open to having Obama take part in the summit on Friday and Saturday of leaders of the G20, which includes top industrial and developing economies such as France, Great Britain, Italy, China, Brazil and India.
But neither Obama nor his aides will attend.
"He's very interested and thought it was very good to have the meeting. But in a phrase you'll hear in exceedingly large numbers of times between now and the 20th of January, there's only one president at a time," senior Obama aide Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday.
Bush has put Dan Price, a White House expert on international economics, in charge of briefing Obama and his team. "We are discussing the summit with representatives of President-elect Obama, and are seeking their input and views," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Even if Obama had wanted to attend the summit, experts said there would not have been time to prepare for it.
Obama, who made history a week ago as the first black U.S. president-elect, takes over from Bush on Jan. 20. He has yet to select his Treasury secretary or any other members of his economic team.
"There is so much careful choreography that goes into these events," said Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund who is now with Peterson Institute for International Economics think tank. "The preparations can take weeks, if not months," Johnson said.
Reginald Dale, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also thought Obama's approach was sensible.
"I think he wants to have a free hand after the inauguration," Dale said. "If he gets too closely associated with the summit, he might find himself associated with views with which he might not necessarily agree."
A Democrat, Obama sharply criticized Bush's economic policies during the campaign and said they had set the stage for the financial crisis. But he also consulted closely behind the scenes with Bush's Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and supported the $700 billion bailout the Republican administration pushed through Congress.
Both Obama and Bush, who met at the White House on Monday, have emphasized a cooperative spirit during the transition.
Obama's advisers see it as in their interests to avoid overt criticism that might worsen a financial crisis he is set to inherit.
Fears that the global financial turmoil could lead to a deep global recession have prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call for a new version of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference.
The New Hampshire gathering, held in the wake of the Second World War, led to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and set the foundation for the modern financial structure.
This weekend's G20 gathering is not expected to be anywhere near as sweeping. But analysts said it could be the beginning of a process that will lead to urgently needed changes in the fraying world financial system.
With Bush lacking clout and Obama absent, hopes have dwindled for big strides at the meeting.
Obama strongly favors close international cooperation on overhauling the financial system, a view he espoused long before markets began melting down in mid-September.
Some foreign leaders had hoped for a chance to meet with him during their visit to the U.S. capital.
While Obama adviser Gibbs said the president-elect will not sit down with leaders on the sidelines of the summit, he did not rule out the possibility that some of Obama's advisers might meet with visiting officials.
Several Obama advisers, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, have relationships with many foreign officials that go back years.