WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush on Wednesday publicly congratulated Barack Obama on his historic victory and vowed "complete cooperation" as the first black US president moves into the White House.
"Last night, I had a warm conversation with president-elect Barack Obama. I congratulated him and Senator (Joe) Biden on their impressive victory," Bush said as he broke his much-noted public silence on the election.
With 76 days left in his term, Bush said he had telephoned Obama, after voters decided the longest and costliest US presidential race, to invite him and wife Michelle Obama to the White House "as soon as possible."
"I told the president-elect he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House," the outgoing president said in a three-minute statement in the Rose Garden.
Bush also said he and First Lady Laura Bush had invited Obama and wife Michelle Obama to come to the presidential mansion, "and Laura and I are looking forward to welcoming them as soon as possible."
The US president, whose vast unpopularity weighed down fellow Republican and chosen successor John McCain's campaign, also left little doubt he would be calling the shots until midday on January 20.
Bush made no mention of consulting Obama but promised to keep him "fully informed on important decisions" while stressing: "There's important work to do in the months ahead, and I will continue to conduct the people's business as long as this office remains in my trust."
Behind the scenes, the White House pursued efforts to help Obama's team "hit the ground running" at a time of global economic crisis and as tens of thousands of US troops fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, aides said.
Bush requested 8.5 million dollars in funding from his 2009 budget for the transition, which will see the president elect's team given office space in Washington.
He also created a special transition commission in early October. The panel groups senior national security and economic aides, who will be giving their designated successors briefings or running them through exercises to simulate responses to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Some of those have been planned but will wait until Obama has picked his secretaries of state and defense, say US government officials.
"A long campaign has now ended, and we move forward as one nation. We're embarking on a period of change in Washington, yet there are some things that will not change," Bush said Wednesday.
"The United States government will stay vigilant in meeting its most important responsibility -- protecting the American people. And the world can be certain this commitment will remain steadfast under our next commander-in-chief," Bush said in his three-minute statement.
Obama and his top advisers have already received national security briefings, and his campaign has already submitted the names of potential senior aides to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get security clearances required to see and discuss sensitive information.
"Every transition is complicated. This is not a parliamentary system. We have no shadow government in place," said Stephen Hess, a US presidential transition expert at the non-partisan Brookings Institution in Washington.
Noting the two ongoing wars and the global economic crisis, Hess told AFP: "It's like we're on an escalator, we don't stop the world for a new president to get on."
Major US government departments, including defense and state, have prepared briefing books and in-person explanations for key incoming officials on major policy challenges, upcoming international events, officials said.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack showed reporters a sample -- four plastic embossed folders, entitled "Overview Papers," which included classifed information, "Looking Ahead," "Management Overview" and a budget book.
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