Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama, McCain vow cooperation

'President-elect Obama (left) and Senator McCain (right) have been champions of immigration reform in the past, and they would make a formidable team going forward,' Ms Lynn Tramonte, policy director at the pro-immigration group America's Voice said. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHICAGO - NO LONGER foes but not yet allies, President-elect Barack Obama and Mr John McCain buried their bitter campaign in public smiles and searched for common ground in private on Monday.

The 40-minute session at Mr Obama's transition headquarters, their first meeting since Nov 4, was just the latest effort by the president-elect to heal wounds from the long and bitter campaign and seek help from his former rivals.

On Thursday, he quietly met here with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his toughest rival for the Democratic nomination and now a possible choice for secretary of state.

Mr McCain's meeting with Mr Obama was less furtive, and aides to both men said no Cabinet post is envisioned for the Arizona senator.

Mr Obama has said he plans to invite at least one Republican to join his Cabinet.

Like Mrs Clinton, Mr McCain knows that returning to the 100-member Senate will impose limits and frustrations after the heady two years of the presidential campaign. For both, a friendly relationship with the new president might open new opportunities in Congress or elsewhere, though they exchanged harsh words with him not long ago.

For Mr Obama, cordial ties to two of the nation's most famous and successful politicians might smooth the launch of an administration confronting an economic crisis and two wars.

Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton, who returns to Congress as a fairly junior senator with no immediate prospects for a leadership post, appeared very much in the running for secretary of state. Transition officials said she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were cooperating with a vetting process, although there were other contenders for the job.

Mr Bill Clinton's finances and business relationships could pose a conflict of interest for his wife if she became the nation's top diplomat. Since leaving the White House in 2001, he has amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune and built a large international foundation through his ties to corporations and foreign governments.

As for Mr Obama and Mr McCain, they expressed similar views on a number of issues during the campaign, such as the dangers of climate change and a need to ease US dependence on fossil fuels.

Aides familiar with Monday's meeting said the two men spoke of working together on that broad issue, as well as on comprehensive immigration revisions, an effort Mr McCain helped to spearhead in the Senate in 2006. The measure collapsed, and Mr Obama will face difficult decisions in how far to push changes in immigration laws in a Congress dominated by Democrats.

They also discussed the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which both men have criticised and Mr Obama has vowed to close.

Mr Obama also praised a proposal Mr McCain has championed to establish a commission to reform 'corporate welfare', aides said.

They did not discuss specific legislation, the aides said. But Mr Obama's incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close McCain friend and adviser, were expected to discuss a joint legislative effort.

Mr Emanuel and Ms Graham participated in the meeting.

Mr Obama and Mr McCain sat for a brief picture-taking session with reporters. They were heard briefly discussing football, and when asked if he planned to help the Obama administration, Mr McCain replied, 'Obviously.'

After the meeting, the two issued a joint statement saying: 'At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent challenges of our time.

'It is in this spirit that we had a productive conversation today about the need to launch a new era of reform where we take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in order to restore trust in government, and bring back prosperity and opportunity for every hardworking American family,' they said.

'We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy and protecting our nation's security.'

The last time Mr Obama and Mr McCain issued a joint statement was Sept 24, when they called for a bipartisan approach to the economic crisis. Mr McCain quickly went his own way, however, announcing he was temporarily suspending his campaign and calling for a White House meeting that ended in chaos and hurt him in the polls.

Also on Monday, Mr Obama and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden spoke with several world leaders by phone. Both men have been reaching out to foreign leaders as they prepare to take over the White House in January.

Mr Obama's calls on Monday, announced by his transition office in a statement, included Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Turkish President Abdullah Gul. -- AP

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