Obama's shadow looms as Bush meets world leaders
Since winning the Nov. 4 election, Obama has been careful not to overstep boundaries.
Washington -- US president-elect Barack Obama made a point of staying far away from Washington while President George W Bush hosted world leaders Saturday in an effort to rescue the global economy, but his pending move into the White House loomed large over the crucial summit.
With Obama keeping a low profile at his transition team headquarters in Chicago, news that he might choose former opponent, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, as his top diplomat rivaled coverage of the Group of 20 summit.
At the same time, two of his advisors, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former Republican Congressman Jim Leach, were holding closed door meetings with some foreign leaders or their foreign policy and economic aides for consultations ahead of Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.
Since winning the November 4 election, Obama has been careful not to over step boundaries, not wanting to hamper Bush's attempts to steer the United States out of the financial crisis or intrude on his management of the summit of the world's 20 largest economies.
Obama did not send representatives to the Group of 20 gathering but was expected to be kept up to date on developments, and declined requests for private meetings with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit, where the countries agreed to a set of principles for reforming the international finance system.
While Bush hosted the meetings, many leaders are already looking past his tenure and toward the future of relations with the United States. Some European leaders might be waiting to see if Obama is more willing to embrace tougher finance regulations than Bush, who has resisted measures that would impede free markets.
Bush assured the leaders at the conference there will be a smooth transition between the administrations, and that the White House was keeping the Obama team updated on the summit.
During his campaign, Obama called for tougher regulations, but has only made one public appearance since defeating John McCain for the presidency. Even though Obama's presence was in high demand, leaders understood his need to stay out of the limelight.
"The situation in the United States is very delicate. There is a transition between the outgoing and the incoming presidents," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. "President Bush has to assume the responsibility of president until January 20th, and he can't have doubts on how to deal with the crisis."
News began leaking this week that Obama was seriously considering whether to anoint Clinton to head the State Department. Obama reportedly asked Clinton if she would be interested in the job but stopped short of making an offer during a meeting in Chicago on Thursday.
Bringing Clinton into his cabinet would immediately bring a well- known public figure into his government and would further help heal wounds among Democrats over the drawn-out, bitter contest for the Democratic Party's nomination.
Clinton refused to address speculation on her candidacy during a speaking engagement in New York on Friday, but did not repeat her usual response that she looked forward to working with an Obama administration as a senator.
"I'm not going to speculate or address anything about the president-elect's incoming administration," she said. "And I am going to respect his process and any inquiries should be directed to his transition team."
Others names that have been the source of speculation for secretary of state are Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who was the 2004 presidential nominee for the Democrats, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who played a key foreign policy role in the Bill Clinton administration.
Richard Holbrooke, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Clinton, and retiring Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican highly critical of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, are also believed to be on the list.
Despite his absence at the summit, Obama has been in touch with a handful of foreign leaders. Days after the election, Obama returned congratulatory phone calls from the presidents or prime ministers of Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Spain and South Korea.
During the campaign, Obama sought to build his foreign policy credentials with a trip to the Middle East and Europe. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and spoke to a crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.