Obama sets 1-year Guantanamo closure deadline

Matt Spetalnick,Reuters
Thursday 22 January 2009 18:22

President Barack Obama today ordered the closure of Guantanamo and may start naming troubleshooters for world hot spots like the Middle East and Iran as he moves swiftly to repair America's tarnished image abroad.

In a first-week flurry of activity focused squarely on rolling back some of George Bush's policies, Obama set a one-year deadline for shutting Guantanamo and also barred harsh treatment of terrorism suspects held there.

The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - where prisoners have been detained for years without charge, some subjected to interrogation that human rights groups say amounted to torture - has damaged America's moral standing in the world.

"The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly," Obama said in a White House ceremony after signing executive orders.

"We are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals," he added.

With foreign policy on the front burner, Obama was ready to wade deeper into the thicket of diplomacy with a visit to the State Department to welcome Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

It comes as Obama, who was sworn in on Tuesday, is moving quickly to tackle a litany of foreign policy challenges bequeathed to him by Bush and highlighted during the Illinois Democrat's run for the White House.

Those include pursuing a policy of much broader engagement overseas than the Bush administration, which was criticized for go-it-alone "cowboy diplomacy," and refocusing the fight against terrorism away from the unpopular Iraq war and back onto the Afghanistan conflict.

Obama could seize the chance on Thursday to announce former Sen. George Mitchell, a seasoned international diplomat, as envoy to revive moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, which Bush was criticized for failing to give enough attention.

There was also strong speculation that Obama would name Dennis Ross, a veteran Arab-Israeli negotiator, as special envoy to the Middle East, with a focus on tackling Iran's nuclear program. Obama has promised to pursue engagement with Tehran, in contrast to Bush's efforts to isolate it.

Former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was widely seen as the top candidate for envoy for the Afghanistan and Pakistan,

On the domestic front, with markets volatile and job losses mounting, Obama held his second daily meeting in a row with top economic advisers to try to chart a course out of the worst financial crisis in decades.

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