WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush said he and the former U.S. heads of state all want President-elect Barack Obama to succeed when he becomes the 44th president. "One message I have, and I think we all share, is that we want you to succeed," Bush said before a power lunch of former, current and future presidents at the White House. "Whether we're a Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country." Former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also attended the lunch. To the extent they could, "we look forward to sharing our experiences with you," Bush said. "All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual." Obama, who will be sworn in on January 20, thanked Bush for hosting the lunch, calling it "an extraordinary gathering." "All of the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office," Obama said. "And for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel, and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary. And I'm very grateful to all of them." Bush, a Republican, and Obama, a Democrat, met privately for about 30 minutes ahead of the wider gathering and were expected to discuss the U.S. economy and the crisis in the Middle East. The five men, all standing in a line in front of the president's desk, smiled and rubbed shoulders, with Carter standing somewhat more to the side of the group. The senior Bush stood next to Obama, with the current president next, followed by Clinton and Carter. When asked by a reporter what he learned from the other four men's mistakes, Obama retorted: "From their successes" Despite last year's heated political campaign when Obama attacked Bush regularly over foreign and domestic policy, the transition process between the November 4 election and Obama's January 20 inauguration has proceeded smoothly. Though they have much in common, relations between the different presidents have not always been rosy. Carter has criticized Bush's presidency as "the worst in history" with regard to international relationships and Clinton, who has a warm relationship with the senior Bush, criticized the current president and Obama sharply during his wife Hillary Clinton's White House bid last year. Wednesday's event was the first such gathering of former U.S. heads of state at the White House in 27 years. After their meeting in the Oval Office, the five men had lunch in a chandeliered private dining room.