WASHINGTON, November 11 – 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 and came away impressed with the Oval Office.
Bush and Obama, who routed the incumbent’s fellow Republican and chosen successor John McCain in the November 4 election, met privately for about an hour in the chamber from which the US president makes world-shaping decisions.
Obama and wife Michelle had arrived about 10 minutes early for their two-hour visit and got a warm welcome from Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the mansion’s 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, Obama’s first ever visit to the storied seat of power.
Bush guided Obama into the room for private, one-on-one 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 present and future presidents met alone without notetakers then joined their wives to tour the residential quarters.
Before Obama left the White House, they returned to the Oval Office, Gibbs said and put the politics of the campaign — where the Democrat lashed Bush repeatedly — in the past.
"Nothing but cooperation and graciousness on the part of the administration," he said, characterising the meeting.
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 highly 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 two leaders had been expected to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the November 15 summit in Washington on the global economic meltdown — though Obama was not expected to take part.
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.