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.