Obama takes on daunting crises on day one

22nd January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Obama moves toward closure of Guantanamo and meets with top US war commander General Petraeus.

Washington -- President Barack Obama confronted the grim realities of the multiple national security and economic crises dogging the United States in his first full day in the Oval Office.

The president basked in a wave of jubilation at a singular moment of American history on Tuesday.

He vowed to remake America after he was sworn in as the first black president before a stunning crowd of an estimated two million people.

After waltzing into the night with his wife Michelle at 10 inaugural balls, the president was expected at a multi-denominational national prayer service called to bestow blessings on his administration at Washington National Cathedral.

But a daunting line-up of meetings with top economic and military aides loomed, including with top US war commander General Petraeus.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the plummeting economy were among those issues on Obama’s full plate.

In one of the first actions of his presidency, Obama issued a document to prosecutors at military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, late Tuesday seeking a suspension of trials of war on terror suspects.

On Wednesday, a judge overseeing the military tribunal of Canadian Omar Khadr at the camp ordered the trial suspended for 120 days, in line with Obama's request.

The decision will halt the military trials of five alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as that of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, until at least May.

Within days, Obama is expected to issue an executive order requiring the closure of the camp, in line with his campaign promises, but it was not clear how long it would take to shutter the controversial facility.

The president was set to huddle with his top economic advisors as he plots a way to navigate a massive 800 billion dollar plus stimulus package through the US Congress in a bid to salvage the American economy.

On Capitol Hill, Obama's pick for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced a grilling at his Senate confirmation hearing which was delayed by Republicans after it emerged that Geithner failed to pay 34,000 dollars in taxes in past tax returns.

Geithner issued a contrite apology last week over the omission, which he has since corrected. He is expected to have an uncomfortable time before the Senate Finance Committee, but to ultimately prevail.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that given the depth of the crisis, Geithner was widely acknowledged as the expert best poised to cope.

"He is just right for the job, I think there is a broad consensus, both Democrats and Republicans that he is the right guy for the job," Schumer told MSNBC television.

After meeting his economic team, Obama, in his first formal day as commander-in-chief of the US military, was set to meet the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A defense official told AFP the meeting would also include Petraeus, the US commander in southwest Asia and the architect of former President George Bush's troop surge in Iraq -- which Obama initially opposed.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama vowed to call in top military brass on his first day in office and order them to formulate a plan to get US troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

The president said in his inaugural address on Tuesday that, "we will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan."

The Senate was also expected to vote Wednesday to confirm Hillary Clinton, Obama's former fierce Democratic primary opponent, as secretary of state.

On Tuesday, Obama claimed his place in history as leader of a nation stained by the legacies of slavery and racial segregation, and told Americans that they have to pull together to pick their way out of raging storms.

"We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said in his somber inaugural address. "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily, or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met."

The former Illinois senator took office amidst the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with tens of thousands of US troops locked in Iraq and Afghanistan and a nuclear showdown with Iran looming.

The inauguration on the steps of the US Capitol, which was partially built with slave labor, broke the highest racial barrier in the United States and goes some way to reconciling civil rights leader Martin Luther King's dream of racial unity.

Obama vowed to reclaim America's place at the head of global powers, and signaled he would reject anti-terror tactics used by the Bush administration, which critics say infringe American values.

Stephen Collinson/AFP/Expatica

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