Mr President Hits the Ground Running; the Buck Stops Here: President Barack Obama Gets Straight Down to Work in the Oval Office at the White House Yesterday Morning with Initiatives on the Economy, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and the Middle East
Byline: David Gardner
HE PROMISED it would be straight down to work after the inaugural day festivities and he promised sweeping change.
Yesterday President Barack Obama was as good as his word.
His first move was effectively to halt all war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay terror suspects, and he was set to follow that with an order that will see the widely-condemned Cuban prison camp shut within a year.
He then plunged into the Middle East peace process with phone calls to Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
And for the first time he spoke out over the crisis in the Gaza Strip by pledging U.S. support for the fragile ceasefire.
In a day of frantic activity in the Oval Office, the 44th president also asked his military leaders to submit plans for a new mission to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Last night he also called a meeting with his top economic advisers to plot the way forward in dealing with the financial crisis.
That came as it emerged that President Obama was freezing the pay of about a hundred White House employees who make more than $100,000 a year.
The president hit the ground running after grabbing just a few hours sleep.
His first task after walking into the Oval Office at 8.30am after a night racing around ten inaugural balls was to open the traditional letter left by the departing president that was addressed: 'From No 43 to No. 44.'
The content of the note was not revealed - but Mr Obama wasted no time proving he was heading in a very different direction from the unpopular George W Bush.
He used a direct executive order - that does not require the backing of congressional lawmakers - to move quickly against the military justice system at Guantanamo Bay that was a cornerstone of Mr Bush's war on terror.
His order for prosecutors to request a 120- day suspension pending a review of the system was expected to derail the cases against 21 detainees, including murder cases against five men charged in connection with the September 11 attacks.
Aides said the order includes a provision to keep Mr Obama's election pledge to close the naval base jail that still holds 245 prisoners.
While his move will win applause around the world, it will still leave him with a massive problem of just how he closes the jail.
Mr Obama has not yet said where the prisoners will be held if Guantanamo Bay is closed, whether they will face justice in mainland civilian courts, or be freed.
The latter option would be a political minefield.
Last night, he received a possible solution from the Swiss government, which offered to take the detainees off his hands.
Full details of Mr Obama's conversations with leaders in the Middle East were not released.
But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said: '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.'
Mr Obama inherits the aftermath of a Gaza conflict that dogged the final days of the Bush administration.
The Israeli offensive that ravaged Hamas-run Gaza and left some 1,300 Palestinians dead, at least half of them civilians.
Thirteen Israelis also died.
Mr Gibbs said the president 'emphasised his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective antismuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming', and by working with Palestinian leadership to help create a 'a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza.'
Last night it was reported that Mr Obama was on the verge of appointing former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy - a move that could put Tony Blair out of a job. …