Day 2: Obama Tackles Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON  — President Barack Obama is ready to trumpet Hillary Rodham Clinton's installation as secretary of state while turning to veteran politician and dealmaker George Mitchell to guide the new administration through the Mideast thicket.

It amounts to a new-look U.S. foreign policy by four senators — Obama and Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, who served together until after this year's election, and Mitchell, who served much earlier as Senate majority leader. Obama was going to the State Department Thursday to join Clinton in addressing diplomats there and — very likely — setting forth major elements of the administration's emerging national security strategy.

One key aspect of that policy would move forward Thursday, with Obama planning to sign an order to shutter the much-maligned Guantanamo prison within a year, according to a senior administration official. This would redeem a promise that Obama frequently made on the campaign trail.

The U.S. naval facility has been a major sore point for critics around the world who say it violates domestic and international detainee rights. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the order has not yet been issued.

The executive order on Guantanamo was one of three expected on how to interrogate and prosecute al-Qaida, Taliban or other foreign fighters believed to threaten the United States. The administration already has suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of the military tribunals.

Obama also had in hand executive orders to review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, a key part of plans that had been assembled even before Obama won the election on Nov. 4.

"In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo and closure of the facility would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice," said the draft executive order that would close Guantanamo. The draft was obtained by The Associated Press.

White House aides announced that the president would meet with retired military officers to discuss the executive orders in the morning, but would not confirm that Obama planned to sign them immediately.

The Obama-Clinton meeting at the State Department later Thursday was to include Biden and national security adviser Jim Jones and his deputy.

Obama's Foggy Bottom address could provide an opening for him to plunge into the Middle East conflict.

He has been reluctant to get ahead of the process, saying frequently during the post-Election Day transition period that the country should be speaking with a single voice on foreign affairs and there could only be one president at a time.

For that reason, Obama stood down from much substantive talk on the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, and the surge of new violence on the Gaza Strip, although he voiced concern about the loss of life in both situations.

The State Department visit also could be the setting for Obama to announces the appointment of Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, as his special envoy to the region.

Mitchell, credited with arranging a peace accord in Northern Ireland, played the special envoy role for former President Bill Clinton and has handled other delicate diplomatic assignments since leaving the Senate in 1995. The White House has been preparing an announcement of the new mission for Mitchell, said diplomatic officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.

Meanwhile, Obama started his new life in the White House by keeping other campaign promises.

On Wednesday, he signed executive orders to limit his staff's ability to leave the administration to lobby their former colleagues. He also limited pay raises for his senior aides making more than $100,000 a year — a nod to a flailing economy and voters' frustrations.

He also opened the doors to the White House to visitors on Wednesday, meeting with guests in the White House's Blue Room.

"Enjoy yourself, roam around," a smiling Obama told one guest as he shuffled through the room. "Don't break anything."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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