Obama Spending Day Two on Foreign Affairs

January 22, 2009 - 5:40 AM
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Vice President Joe Biden looks on as President Barack Obama signs executive orders on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Washington (AP) -  President Barack Obama is making good on his promise to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and appears ready to name a veteran politician to guide his new administration in the Middle East conflict.
 
A senior Obama administration official said the president would sign an order Thursday to shutter the Guantanamo prison within one year. 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 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 aides' 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.
 
On Thursday, Obama was visiting the State Department to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and his top national security advisers.
 
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 also was to include Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser Jim Jones and his deputy. It was to be followed by an address by Obama and Clinton to State Department employees.
 
The address could provide an opening for Obama to enter the daunting thicket of Middle East diplomacy, long dodged by deferring to President George W. Bush, who left office Tuesday. It could also be the time he announces George Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, as his special envoy to the region.
 
During his two-month stint as the president-elect, Obama promised he would have plenty to say on the conflict as soon as he was in office, but the country could only have one foreign policy voice at a time.
 
Some of Obama's other promises, though, have already been attended to. 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."
 
Obama was starting his day Thursday with a private meeting on the nation's struggling economy, a signal to the millions of Americans struggling with tighter credit, increasing home foreclosures and the dollar's shrinking value.
 
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AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.