- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009


President Obama took immediate action on his first full day in office to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling four foreign leaders at the heart of the decades-long struggle that has been inflamed by brutal fighting over the last month in Gaza.

“He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, in an e-mailed statement.

Prior to a morning worship service at National Cathedral, the new president called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas.

As Israeli troops completed a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip Wednesday after more than three weeks of fighting that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, Mr. Obama pushed for two specific measures to “help consolidate the ceasefire” reached recently between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Mr. Gibbs said that the president talked of “etablishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating, in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza.”

“He pledged that the United States would do its part to make these efforts successful, working closely with the international community and these partners as they fulfill their responsibilities as well,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The President appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature of these calls.”


Obamas attend prayer service

The president was also poised to issue an executive order in the next day or two ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, White House aides told the Washington Times. One draft of the order circulated by the Obama administration to outside groups, seeking input, said that Mr. Obama will close the facility within a year and transfer some prisoners to U.S. detention facilities and others to their country of origin, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Obama already on Tuesday, immediately after being sworn in, requested that a federal judge suspend all military commission trials of suspected terrorists. The request was granted.

In a motion filed in the government’s case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who the government has named as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, prosecutors said the new administration is going to review all of the cases of those held at Guantanamo Bay.

The prosecutors said the new administration wants to “determine whether prosecution may be warranted for any offenses those detainees may have committed, and to determine which forum best suits any future prosecution.”

Mr. Obama had planned meetings in the afternoon on the economy and the war in Iraq, executive orders that will raise ethics standards for government employees, and an open house with invited guests from the city.

Following the worship service, Mr. Obama returned to the White House for a swearing-in ceremony for White House staff, in the Vice President’s ceremonial office inside the Executive Office building.

He then was set to issues a series of executive orders that is expected to lengthen the amount of time that executive branch employees must wait before joining lobbyist groups after they leave government.

At 2:30 p.m., Mr. Obama planned to greet a few hundred invited guests at a White House open house for about 45 minutes. The guests were selected from supporters who signed up on the inaugural committee website.

At 3:15 p.m., his economic advisers National Economic Director Lawrence Summers, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, White House Policy Council Director Melody Barnes and White House coordinator of energy and climate policy Carol Browner will brief him on the economy.

And at 4 p.m., the new commander-in-chief will discuss with military commanders his campaign promise to immediately begin a withdrawal from Iraq and get all combat troops out within 16 months.

That meeting will take place in the White House Situation Room, a basement suite of conference rooms with 24-hour, 7-day a week staff and secure video-conferencing that can connect the president with foreign heads of state and his own government and military officials around the world.

The Iraq meeting will include Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, National Security Adviser General James Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. Troops in Iraq, will join the meeting by video conference. And the White House said that a representative from the State Department will attend as well, as Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton’s nomination remains in limbo.

Campaign operatives from across the country were planning to attend the staff ball Wednesday night at the D.C. Armory. Obama aides said the new president might show up to thank everyone for their hard work.

Press aides joked in their new main office, just off the Brady briefing room, about where to put an espresso machine.

“Where’s the water around here?” assistant press secretary Tommy Vietor asked.

Deputy press secretary Bill Burton complained about the draftiness of his new office.

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