WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and erstwhile Republican opponent Mitt Romney met for a private lunch Thursday at the White House as they tried to move on from a bitterly personal election campaign.
In their first encounter since the election, the former foes sat down alone in the president's private dining room off the Oval Office, which, until his defeat on November 6, Romney had envisioned taking over in January.
The meeting was closed to the press, and Romney, now stripped of his Secret Service detail, arrived and left an hour and twenty minutes later, in a large black Lincoln car, from a side door of the West Wing, avoiding reporters.
"Governor Romney congratulated the president for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years," White House spokesman Jay Carney said after the rivals lunched on white turkey chili and southwestern grilled chicken salad.
"The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future.
"They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future."
The White House also released a picture of Obama and Romney, looking at one another in a friendly way as they shook hands in the center of the Oval Office.
There was a moment of drama for Romney as his motorcade approached the White House when a man approached the vehicles and was then arrested after he started arguing with Secret Service officers.
"An individual interfered with a motorcade as it was entering a checkpoint at the White House," said Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.
"The individual became combative with uniformed division officers and the individual was arrested for assault on a police officer and unlawful entry."
The meeting at the White House was likely a testing personal moment for the former Massachusetts governor, who was convinced even on election day that he would be the 45th US president, but was outwitted by Obama's political machine.
Neither Romney nor Obama appeared to have any warmth or even great respect for one another, in a campaign that flared into open dislike during their contentious three presidential debates last month.
"Campaigns are a tough business, debates are sharp and in this case were very substantive and important," Carney said.
The president has in the past appeared magnanimous to former foes, notably when he asked Hillary Clinton -- whom he defeated in a Democratic primary -- to join his "team of rivals" first-term cabinet as secretary of state.
It is unclear whether Thursday's meeting was just for appearances' sake as Obama seeks to heal the political wounds of a divisive election or if he had a specific task in mind for Romney and, if he did, whether the Republican would accept.
Obama said in his first post-election press conference earlier this month that he hoped to work with Romney on some issues.
"There are certain aspects of Governor Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful," Obama said on November 14, adding that Romney had done a "terrific job" running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
"He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. So it would be interesting to talk to him about something like that," he said.
"There may be ideas that he has with respect to jobs and growth that can help middle-class families that I want to hear."
"I'm not either prejudging what he's interested in doing, nor am I suggesting I've got some specific assignment."
Romney, however, was less conciliatory as he digested the fierce disappointment of losing the presidential election.
He accused Obama of following the "old playbook" by bestowing favors on key Democratic constituencies in exchange for their support.
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