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Bush to meet with Obama

WASHINGTON - President Bush and Barack Obama on Monday will hold their first substantive talks about the nation's daunting priorities as the transition to a Democratic administration accelerates.

Bush, soon to return to Texas after two terms in office, ordered employees on Thursday to ensure a smooth transfer of power to Obama. The transition is a delicate dance in which the White House keeps the president-elect in the loop, and even solicits his input, but the decisions remain solely the president's.

On Monday's discussion list for the current and future presidents: the financial crisis and the war in Iraq.

'We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in,' Bush told a gathering of hundreds of employees from the presidential bureaucracy, gathered on the back lawn of the White House.

'This will also be America's first wartime presidential transition in four decades,' he said. 'We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us, and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people.'

That sobering depiction came as Bush and Obama firmed up plans for their first meeting since Obama defeated Republican John McCain in Tuesday's election.

Bush and first lady Laura Bush will greet Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the White House on Monday afternoon. Bush and the president-elect will meet in the Oval Office while the first lady gives Mrs. Obama a private tour of the White House residence.

'I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship,' the president-elect said of Bush in a statement.

The Obamas' two children won't be there, but White House press secretary Dana Perino said, 'We very much look forward to meeting them.'

Bush's comments to his staff, under a gray sky on the South Lawn, also had the feel of an early goodbye with 75 days left in office.

He stood with the Cabinet, the first lady, and the vice president and his wife by his side. By the time he finished speaking and offered a wave to the crowd, Bush grew emotional. Laura Bush leaned in to give him a hug.

The White House signaled that after months of staying out of the politics of the 2008 election - often enduring a pummeling from Obama - it would soon start speaking up to defend Bush's record on education, energy, the economy and other issues. The focus will be a natural turn to Bush's legacy.

Meanwhile, the shift from one White House to the next is fully under way, with Bush setting a serious tone and expectations for his staff.

The Bush administration has already arranged security clearances for key Obama transition staffers and is providing work space and policy briefings as well. Career employees, who keep their jobs even when administrations change, have taken on extra work to prevent any disruption in essential services.

'We must keep our attention on the task at hand, because the American people expect no less,' Bush directed the executive employees.