Economic summit to focus on the long term

WASHINGTON -- World leaders converging here this weekend will try to reverse the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, amid a change in the White House that leaves a key player on the sidelines.

The agenda for the meeting of 20 top economies — among the most important summits of its kind since World War II — includes discussions of how to stimulate the slumping economy, impose more government control over lending and create more transparency within financial markets.

Missing from the talks will be President-elect Barack Obama, who will assume a leading role in helping to solve these issues when he takes office. He declined to participate because President Bush, the man he will succeed, is the summit's official host. Obama has been wary of projecting presidential authority before his inauguration.

No dramatic action is expected. Participants such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown call the summit an important step that could lead to revised missions for key institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Both were created after the last financial summit of this kind, the 1944 conference at Bretton Woods, N.H.

"It's clear this meeting is more about long-term perspective than immediate measures," Arkady Dvorkovich, economic adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said Thursday.

Bush set the tone for the summit, calling on world leaders not to "reinvent" the free-market system.

"Our aim should not be more government," Bush said in a speech on Wall Street. "It should be smarter government."

The summit will allow the delegates, who represent 90% of the world's economy, to get their ideas on the table and discuss actions already taken in their own countries. The U.S. is changing its $700 billion financial bailout, shifting from buying troubled assets to providing aid to failing banks.

Brown, for example, wants regulators to oversee the world's 30 largest banks. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking international restrictions on executive pay. Growing economic giants such as China, India and Brazil also are interested in revamping the world economic system.

Bush said changes are needed, but too many rules will choke off the economic growth required for recovery. "The surest path to that growth is free markets and free people," he said.

Bush invited the world leaders in late October, as the presidential race was ending. While the summit's timing is awkward, economic experts say it cannot wait until Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20.

"There's got to be a baton passed, but the runner ahead cannot slow down," said Brian Bethune of Global Insight U.S., a forecasting firm. "The current administration needs to remain totally focused on this and move forward."

Obama is sending former secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Iowa congressman Jim Leach, a Republican, to speak with foreign leaders outside of the official settings.

The event kicks off tonight at a dinner hosted by Bush, with meetings Saturday.