- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2008

The building constructed to help aging Civil War veterans in the 1880s will be the site where President Bush and other world leaders gather to draw up the blueprint for the world financial system in the 21st century, the White House said Friday.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino revealed that the massive National Building Museum in Washington will host the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy” on Nov. 15. The hastily scheduled summit meets amid frantic efforts by governments around the world to deal with a crippling credit crunch and the prospect of a deep international recession.

In attendance will be the leaders of the Group of 20 nations, which includes the major industrial powers of the G-8, Australia and 11 emerging markets, including China, India and Brazil. According to Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a fellow at the D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, the invited countries represent two-thirds of the world’s population and 90 percent of global GDP.

Presidential rivals Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama have both said they support the meeting, even though only one of them will be president-elect when the summit convenes. Economic advisers for both men expressed some skepticism earlier this week over what their candidate could contribute to the meeting.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top economic adviser to Mr. McCain, said any participation by the president-elect “would be up to the president and the participants. It’s not obvious what our role is.”

At her daily briefing, Mrs. Perino told reporters that Mr. Bush will host a working dinner at the White House on Nov. 14 and then compare notes with fellow leaders on the current state of the world economy and the rescue efforts taken to date.

“And then they will talk about these principles for reform, identify those, and then have working groups that are tasked with going back and working with their financial experts in their countries as to how they would be implemented in their own countries,” she said.

Top officials from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Union and United Nations are also expected to attend.

Mrs. Perino said three senior administration economic officials are working to shape the agenda of the conference and implement any decision that emerge. They are Daniel Price, assistant to the president for international economic affairs; Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Reuben Jeffrey; and Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs David H. McCormick.

The 121-year-old National Building Museum, located 12 blocks from the White House, is a massive brick pile originally known as the Pension Building. It was designed by Civil War U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs to house the department that dealt with veterans affairs and claims after the war.

The building’s exterior features a famous frieze of Civil War soldiers and the cavernous central atrium has been a popular site for inaugural balls.

The oversized space may be needed to contain the colliding agendas of some of the key players.

The original idea for the summit came from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both of whom have argued the current economic crisis demands far-reaching changes in the U.S.-dominated world financial system put in place after World War II.

Mr. Bush and other top U.S. officials have resisted some of the more ambitious regulatory and institutional changes European leaders have sought, and have tried to lower expectations for the summit.

Mr. Bush’s status as a lame-duck host has also led to questions about how any major decisions made at the summit will be implemented by the next U.S. administration.

“The timing of the summit, coming 10 days after the presidential election, is not ideal,” wrote Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens Friday. “Mr. Bush will have reached the last lap of a broken presidency.”

Even the Washington location has proven controversial.

Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and a critic of the Bush administration, said the United Nations was a better place to hold the summit given the global impact of the crisis.

“U.S. financial markets were viewed as the fount of wisdom and a source of stability for the global market,” Mr. Stiglitz told reporters after a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday. “They’ve lost that legitimacy.”

White House officials say the Washington venue is the most practical given the very short time available to plan the summit.

A diplomatic flap has already emerged over the guest list.

Spain, the world’s eighth-largest economy but not a member of the G-20, has lobbied loudly but unsuccessfully for a seat at the summit.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero opposed the war in Iraq and Mr. McCain’s campaign said recently the Republican would not meet with him if Mr. McCain is elected.

The Bush administration said there was no deliberate effort to exclude Madrid. It simply did not belong to any of the groupings included in the summit. Mr. Zapatero publicly demanded this week that Spain be invited.

“Zapatero has painted himself into a corner because there is no turning back from his decision and the risk of failure is considerable,” Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper wrote Friday.

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