Barack Obama will play no part in this weekend’s Group of 20 economic summit in Washington, although his advisers will hold talks with visiting world leaders, it was announced on Tuesday.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
The president-elect plans to keep a low profile in Chicago while the meeting takes place in an effort not to upstage President George W. Bush, for whom the event marks one of his last big moments in the spotlight before leaving office.
Mr Obama’s absence threatens to leave a vacuum as the world’s 20 leading economic powers try to craft a global response to the financial crisis without input from the man about to assume control of the world’s biggest economy.
However, John Podesta, co-chairman of the Obama transition team, said it was important that the US spoke with one voice. “It would not be appropriate for two people to turn up at this meeting,” he said. “We have one president at a time.”
Mr Obama’s advisers had been in close contact with Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary, and expected to be fully briefed after the summit, said Mr Podesta.
There were no plans for Mr Obama to send a representative, but meetings were being arranged between his advisers and foreign leaders on the sidelines of the event.
G20 delegations are clamouring for access to the Obama team while in Washington as governments vie to forge ties with the incoming administration.
First signs of tension
Mr Podesta’s remarks came amid the first signs of tension between Mr Bush and the president-elect after alleged details of their meeting at the White House on Monday leaked to the press.
Unnamed Obama aides told the New York Times and Washington Post that Mr Bush had proposed that Congress should pass the pending US trade deal with Colombia as a quid pro quo for his approving a second economic stimulus package.
White House officials denied that the president had made any such proposal and expressed their displeasure that at least one Obama aide had briefed reporters about the private one-to-one meeting.
On Tuesday Mr Podesta sought to soothe the ill feeling by endorsing the White House’s account of the meeting and stressing that the transition team remained delighted by the co-operation it was receiving from the Bush administration.
But he reiterated Mr Obama’s desire for Congress to pass a second economic stimulus package before he took office, and said he remained opposed to the Colombia trade deal – putting him at odds with Mr Bush on both counts.
Mr Podesta also said Mr Obama supported the push by congressional Democrats to accelerate and possibly expand government support for the ailing US car industry – another source of potential conflict with the Bush administration during the handover.