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Obama calls Middle Eastern leaders and engages on Gaza

By Dave Cook / January 21, 2009



On his first full day as president, almost everything Barack Obama does qualifies as unprecedented.

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But one of the more notable firsts on Wednesday was a series of calls President Obama made this morning to four Middle Eastern leaders commenting about the Gaza crisis and offering support for a fragile cease-fire.

He is now the one president we have

While Mr. Obama was deeply engaged in dealing with the nation’s economic crisis as president-elect, he was reticent in commenting on the Gaza conflict and often cited the truism that “we have only one president at a time.”

But on the day he first occupied the Oval Office, Obama called President Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described the calls as “warm,” adding that “the president appreciated the spirit of partnership.”

In the final days of the Bush administration an Israeli offensive ravaged Gaza and killed at least 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. Israel said it acted to stop rocket attacks launched from Gaza and to stop arms smuggling that endangered its population.

Promising to be engaged

Obama used the calls to “communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The presidential spokesman said Obama “emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the cease-fire by establishing an effective antismuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza.”

Meeting on Iraq in 'The Woodshed'

International issues will also play a major role in Obama’s afternoon. At 4:15 p.m. he is slated to hold a meeting on Iraq in the Situation Room located in the basement of the West Wing. Sometimes called “The Woodshed,” the secure facility was renovated in 2006 and 2007, cutting back on the wood paneling behind its nickname.

Those who will join the president for a discussion of his Iraq policy are Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, National Security Advisor James Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and Gen. David Petraeus, commander in chief of US Central Command.

In his inaugural address on Tuesday, Obama said his goal was to “responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.”