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(photo credit: AP)
Signaling that the Middle East is indeed a top priority, US President Barack Obama used his first day in office to call four regional leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to stress his commitment to Arab-Israeli peacemaking and to preserving the Gaza cease-fire by preventing Hamas from rearming.
Obama said he was committed to "active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term."
Obama also spoke of working in partnership with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza, pledging that the US would work with the international community to fulfill their mutual obligations.
Obama also spoke with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA.
"[Obama] 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," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
"He emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the cease-fire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming," Gibbs said.
One of Condoleezza Rice's last official acts as secretary of state was signing a memorandum of understanding with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to broaden efforts to stop of the flow of weapons into the Gaza Strip, which Israel considers a key component of any cease-fire arrangement. Though undertaken by the Bush administration, it was done in consultation with the Obama team on the understanding that it would be a long-term commitment.
Olmert's office, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that the prime minister updated Obama on the situation in the Gaza Strip, and said he hoped "the efforts of Israel, Egypt, the US and the European countries to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza would succeed, so that it would be possible to stabilize the cease-fire and advance the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the future."
While Olmert was speaking to Obama, Livni was meeting her EU counterparts at a meeting in Brussels that was expected to produce some kind of formal declaration of the EU's commitment to help stop arms smuggling into Gaza.
A less formal document is expected to be forged with the Europeans than was signed with the United States last Friday.
One Israeli official said that while certain EU countries had indicated a readiness to help stop the smuggling of arms on the high seas, that would mean interdicting Iranian ships transporting weapons to Sudan, from where they are then smuggled into Egypt and into Gaza.
Despite good intentions, one official said, "I don't see Italian or German ships stopping Iranian boats, especially in light of the huge trade they have with Iran."
Obama met with top US military and economic advisers on Wednesday and issued new rules on ethics for administration staffers. At the same time he froze the salaries of some highly paid officials.
Obama also had aides circulate a draft executive order that would close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year.
Obama entered the Oval Office for the first time as president at around 8:30 a.m., after returning to the White House from a round of inaugural balls at about 1 a.m, according to Gibbs.
Meanwhile, his former place of employment, the US Senate, was considering the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
The confirmation vote was originally expected on Tuesday, but Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas caused the delay, voicing concerns about donations the global foundation established by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had received from foreign sources.
The vote was scheduled to occur after press time, with approval of her nomination widely anticipated.â€¢
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