Page last updated at 00:45 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Obama attends presidential lunch


The five presidents gather at the White House

US President-elect Barack Obama has taken part in a high-powered lunch at the White House.

President George W Bush hosted the event to give his successor the chance to meet former Presidents George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

It was the first such meeting since 1981. US presidents usually only gather at sombre events such as funerals or historic ceremonies.

The lunch took place with Mr Obama's inauguration less than two weeks away.

President Bush and Mr Obama met privately for about half an hour in the Oval Office ahead of the lunch.

To the extent we can, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you
President Bush to Mr Obama

Democrat Jimmy Carter (1977-81), Mr Bush's father Republican George HW Bush (1989-93) and Democrat Bill Clinton (1993-2001) then joined them for a group photograph in the Oval Office, where Mr Clinton complimented President Bush on his choice of rug.

Mr Bush told reporters: "All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual".

He said the former presidents and the country wished Mr Obama "the very best".

"To the extent we can, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you," he told his successor.

'Good counsel'

The lunch gave Mr Obama the chance to hear the experiences of the former presidents.

"All the gentlemen here understand the pressures and possibilities of this office and for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel, and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary," he told reporters, as the five men posed for photographs.

Nancy Killefer speaks at the Presidential Transition office in Washington (07/01/2009)
Nancy Killefer has the task of overseeing US federal programmes

The idea for the meeting was suggested by Mr Obama and was readily agreed to by President Bush, the White House says.

For Mr Obama, the pace of work has been quickening. He has spent time this week trying to garner support from congressional leaders for his economic stimulus package.

He has also had to defend his reported choice of Leon Panetta as the head of the CIA, which has provoked some grumbling among members of Congress.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden said the Obama team had made a "mistake" in not consulting wider before choosing Mr Panetta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff.

Mr Obama is due to announce his selection of Mr Panetta this week.

On Wednesday, the president-elect appointed former Treasury Department official Nancy Killefer as chief governmental performance officer to oversee US federal programmes.

Meanwhile, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have already been working "to box things up", spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"They didn't come with a lot of things. They didn't bring a lot of furniture here. So mostly what they have are books, obviously their clothes, and then some of the things that they've picked up along the way on their travels."

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