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On First Full Day, Obama Will Dive Into Foreign Policy
Obama transition officials are acutely aware that the world -- and especially the Israelis and Palestinians -- will be watching to see what tone the new president takes. Sources said the initial emphasis will likely be on stepped-up presidential engagement rather than the specifics of a U.S. role, and empathy and aid toward humanitarian suffering.
The first concrete evidence of a new foreign policy approach will begin with the meeting tomorrow. Obama will instruct the Pentagon to prepare for a stepped-up withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, to be completed within 16 months, and will hear proposals for turning around the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, will attend, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of Central Command, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq, will weigh in via live video connection.
Senior officers began late last year to prepare options for withdrawing from Iraq. Obama has said he will listen carefully to their recommendations before approving a plan that meets his specifications. He has said he expects to maintain a "residual force" in Iraq but has not indicated how many troops will remain over what period.
He has also indicated he will move ahead with existing plans for deployment of as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year.
After returning to the White House following his swearing-in today, Obama is expected to visit the Oval Office, aides said.
A handful of senior staff members will ride in Obama's motorcade to the White House today and enter their offices for the first time as they brace to confront the economy, the Middle East, overseas wars and a raft of domestic policy controversies.
Aides said only about 15 White House staffers were pre-screened to enter the West Wing today. The rest will arrive tomorrow morning, after partying at inaugural balls.
Gates will not attend inaugural festivities, having been designated to stay away from the president and other national leaders in case of a catastrophic event.
Mitchell, who led a Middle East peace commission in 2000, is highly regarded as a negotiator for his work in the successful Northern Ireland peace process. An Obama adviser said the exact timing of Mitchell's appointment will depend on Clinton's confirmation vote, which is scheduled to take place by "unanimous consent" and so cannot be stopped by filibuster.
But a Republican senator could demand a voice vote, thus delaying Clinton's confirmation by another day. "If any Republican holds her over, they are stalling the entire administration from hitting this problem," the adviser said.
The Guantanamo order is being crafted by Obama White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig. Its timing is expected to preempt a Guantanamo trial scheduled to begin Monday under the current "military commission" proceedings.
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.