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Obama takes on daunting crises on Day One

world Updated: Jan 21, 2009 21:10 IST

AFP
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President Barack Obama on Wednesday 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 US history on Tuesday, vowing 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 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 top US war commander General Petraeus, with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the plummeting economy on a full plate of issues following a Wall Street free fall.

In one of the first full moves of his presidency, Obama late Tuesday issued a document to prosecutors at military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 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 until at least May the military trials of five alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well as that of Khadr.

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 US economy.

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

Geither issued a contrite apology last week over the omission, which he has since corrected and was expected to have an uncomfortable time before the Senate Finance Committee though ultimately to 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."

Also Wednesday, the Senate was expected to vote 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 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, 47, said in a somber inaugural address to a stunning two million-strong crowd which took sharp issue with the two-term Republican presidency of George W. Bush.

"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 US values.